The Experience


Welcome to the Experience

Students that enroll in the CSLP program select a course to add their service experience onto and complete 40 hours at a community partner of their choice.


The blog posts they write are a reflection activity, an expression of their experience in the program. Their stories are personal and their work is meaningful.


The blog posts are sorted chronologically.

To read posts produced by students in a particular class, serving with a specific community partner, or connecting course content/ service to a key theme, click on the keywords to view similar posts.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Henry Summ, DC Books to Prisons

The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population and at the same time more than 25% of the world’s prisoners. Nearly 1 in every 100 American adults is incarcerated, and many of them have little access to books or educational material. One need only look at states like New York, where literature is limited to a handful of approved titles, to understand that American prisons are not currently places for rehabilitation and empathy, but for profiting off inhumane living conditions. In a course I took this semester on the politics of policing, incarceration, and race (SISU-379), I learned of the factors that led the American criminal justice system to adopt harsher sentences in the 1970s and ‘80s and of the impact the “war on crime” had on minority families. The class made it clear that prisoners are not inherently corrupt or violent individuals, but rather they are too often the victims of unjust circumstances. These trends were troubling and prompted me to seek exposure to proper rehabilitation and reintegration programs in order to study how empathy can be applied in American prisons.

Through American University’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP), I volunteered with DC Books to Prisons, a non-profit organization that redistributes donated books to incarcerated individuals. Its goal is to increase prisoners’ access to all types of literature and provide pen pal correspondence with seasoned volunteers. My role was to sort and pack donated books so that they could be shipped to prisons across the country. Doing so required reading letters from prisoners that indicated their personal preferences, including genres and specific titles and authors. After assembling a few relevant texts, I would write a personal note describing the rationale behind my selection and extending my best wishes. When I noticed certain shelves becoming bare, I organized a book drive in my residence hall to collect those high in demand genres.

In SISU-379, I learned that the overwhelming number of incarcerated people in the United States (Figure 1) has led to overcrowding in American prisons. This was evident in my volunteer work: periodically I’d come across letters from individuals incarcerated in Arizona with Californian identification numbers. California transfers prisoners out-of-state in order to alleviate prison crowding, but its prisons are still operating above 100% capacity, which contributes to poor living conditions.

Figure 1: This chart depicts the increase in the state and federal prison population from 1925-2015. The spike in the 1970s and 1980s is due in part to mandatory minimum sentences, the impossibility of parole, and a crackdown on nonviolent drug-related crime.


Figure 1 was found here:

It seemed to me that for prisoners, reading provides both an escape from this daily life and a way to learn new skills that they can utilize in the workforce upon their release. I saw firsthand that they have diverse interests and possess a desire to learn. What good, then, does it do to impose draconian sentences on those who have broken the law in innocuous ways, especially without considering how to prepare those prisoners for rejoining society?

Empathetic approaches, like those undertaken at DC Books to Prisons, require identifying what someone else is thinking or feeling and validating those emotions. In my role, responding to prisoners meant briefly putting myself in their shoes to assess their requests and then determining which books from the available selection on the shelves they might enjoy. I also may not necessarily have had the same life experiences as them, but I think my prior knowledge of why many prisoners end up incarcerated in the first place allowed me to empathize by suppressing any preconceptions.

Overall, my experience with DC Books to Prisons this semester was a positive one. It was a pleasure to work with the other volunteers, as they also all expressed such genuine care and concern for the people writing to us. While SISU-379 showed at the macro level how the American criminal justice system mistreats prisoners, my volunteer work potentially illustrates one way in which recognizing another’s humanity and providing adequate support can promote a prisoner’s personal development.


The Experience, Uncategorized

Caitlin Mensah, Isaiah House

My name is Caitlin Mensah, and I was pleased to complete a CSLP credit for the Spring 2018 semester at American University. I worked with So Others Might Eat (SOME) for my volunteerism, and the class that I connected my credit to was Introduction to Health Promotion by professor Jody Gan. SOME is a community-based organization that provides individuals of the homeless and underserved population in Washington DC, a multitude of different health services from mental health support to support pertaining to substance abuse issues. Isaiah House which is the under So Others Might Eat, serves in-house clinical services to their participants and visitors as well. Isaiah House is where I worked during my time at SOME. It is a day program in which individuals can come to partake in social conversation and interaction with other participants in the home. They can also enter into Isaiah House to receive basic needs that they could be lacking in such as showering, laundry, and they have the chance to eat at least two meals (breakfast and lunch with snacks in between.) I have had prior experience in working with the organization before, and I believe so profoundly in their tenets and the work that they do for the community that I decided to work with them again. However, this time around because I have now been in Washington, DC for almost an entire academic school year, there was a multitude of aspects that I did not notice my first time around that I believe is worthy of critical analyzation and attention.


SOME is located in NOMA which a neighborhood in Washington, DC currently going through a massive restoration period. There is a new building on almost every street. So much so that the second someone gets off the metro and enter onto the streets, they can smell fresh cement and can visually see the plethora of tall wood structures from miles of away. With new buildings and “restoration,” comes gentrification and displacement of the residents who live in this ward. Gentrification is an exceedingly significant issue that is happening every day in Washington, DC and its effects are adverse on multiple populations from those who are minorities to those who are of the lower-income population. Some of the services as mentioned earlier apply to individuals who have issues regarding substance abuse as well.


Now, in examining the juxtaposition of homelessness to substance abuse, because the two can be so interconnected, it is scary to realize that individuals are going through these states of living and then they have gentrification being placed into their equation. Substance abuse is also a widespread issue in Washington, DC and the rates are rising due to the alarming opioid crisis not only in Washington DC but also across the states as a whole. Those living on the streets statistically speaking have a more substantial chance of turning to abuse of drugs and alcohol to get by and this not only affects their way of life, but it pours over into their mental health as well. Some individuals have firsthand dealt with the adverse effects of gentrification in the city, and because of this, they have turned to alcohol and drugs to substitute their low mental health, but this is only ironically making their mental health issues worse.


Fatima Bah is the supervisor who runs and is a backbone of Isaiah House. When she and I first spoke, she conveyed how some of the participants at Isaiah House and SOME, believe that some of the buildings in the neighborhood of NOMA could be to them. Fatima has to convey to them how the buildings they are seeing are not there for them. When I heard this was a common issue I was hurt, but nothing was more disheartening when I was asked myself.

Taking a participant to the van so they can receive a ride home, I hear the question “Is that building for us?” The building this participant was talking about has been in the process of being built since at least August when I first visited SOME, and it’s construction even negatively affects the participants on the way to SOME. A few of the participants have complained that some days, they cannot get to SOME of they have to go a longer route to get to SOME because construction blocks the regular path that they like to take. The effect of gentrification on the homeless population in conjunction with individuals dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse, is failing the people.


SOME, though it is doing fantastic work for this specific population is one of the only organizations that have managed to stay and keep running for their participants. They have managed to stay afloat due to good volunteer rates and a fantastic staff in which they care for the participants. Because I have worked in different areas at Isaiah House from conducting health groups to serving lunch in the kitchen, I have been able to observe how the staff and SOME and Isaiah House are continually having to think outside the box to make sure that their participants are comfortable and safe. However, what happens when organizations can no longer serve individuals of the homeless population. What happens when individuals have been displaced to the point where they no longer have the energy to travel to SOME because it is too far?


In both my coursework as well as my volunteerism with SOME, I have encountered one of the most significant public health concerns of the century. I have always learned in my classes that in the past we have acted as a nation focused on treatment rather than prevention, but after working at SOME firsthand for the second time, I have seen that come full circle. I have now seen this ideal first hand, and I realize that there is a significant need to confront things head-on before they get out of control. The participants at SOME tell me stories and inside I know that if only someone had been willing to help them from a young age or had been willing to veer them off a path connected to the roots of substance abuse and homelessness they may have been better. Regardless, these individuals are filled with hope and prosperity. Irrespective of the curveballs life has thrown at them; they continue to fight. From hearing stories of participants being inspired to go back to school to participants finding jobs and their own places to live, I know that we are beginning to do better. The solution appears to be simple, but there is a multitude of factors that affect these participants and as a public health major, I have learned that those factors start young and genuinely do follow youth into their adult years. My time at SOME has taught me that those factors need to be addressed in childhood.


In short, Homelessness can happen to anyone, and anyone can have their mental health affected due to a multitude of factors, but it is what we do to help these individuals that matters the most. Factors like gentrification need to be addressed on a policy level, and adequate access to healthcare for different populations must be achieved as well.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Fernanda Carlosama Ruiz, IONA

IONA senior services is an organization that works to provide a wide range of services for the aging population in DC. Located at St. Alban’s church, the faith-placed Active Wellness program is just one branch of IONA. Active Wellness is a day program where DC residents over the age of 60 can socialize, engage in art projects, participate in exercise classes and more. The activities are tailored for the older participants, for example, twice a month there is an event called “Our Human Bodies” with Dr. Thom Bowles where participants can ask the doctor general questions about their health. Also, the exercise classes include stretching to alleviate back pain, a focus on rotator cuffs, and leg strength, with tips on preventative care in case of falls and muscle injury. In addition to this, a nutrient dense meal is provided each day. This organization is working to fulfill the needs of the aging population by providing a space for senior citizens to stay active, well-nourished and involved in their community.

Throughout the semester I was primarily involved in preparing and serving the meals. Armed with a hairnet and gloves, I helped plate all of the pre-prepared meals and assisted with distributing them to the participants. In health promotion, we learned about MyPlate, a visual depiction of the USDA Dietary Guidelines. It calls for mostly fruits and vegetables with, a quarter of the plate representing protein and a quarter grains. The plates were always colorful, and it was evident that the government funded meals followed the nutrition guidelines. The meals were also served with a cup of milk, which is also represented in MyPlate.

Although the food service was fun, my favorite part of the experience was engaging in lively conversations around the room. Social isolation is a threat to the aging population, and IONA works to unite the community and reduce loneliness among older people who have retired or live alone. On weekdays, the atrium of St.Alban’s is full of laughter and noise. I had some interesting conversations with the program participants about their life stories, the things they wish they had done differently, and their views on current events. I always walked out of IONA feeling like I had learned something completely new. Additionally, on some days, students from the nearby elementary school visit IONA to play bingo or do arts and crafts with their “grand-friends”. It was enlightening to see the age gaps melt away through colorful drawings of leaves and fish. This rejuvenated the program participants while also teaching younger kids about how to interact with older people who may have certain disabilities, such as limited mobility or dementia.

The program would not be what it is without the program director, Courtney Tolbert. Watching her interact with the participants and tackle the daily issues that arose with a smile, taught me a great deal about leadership. With everything she did, she put the program participants first and did everything in her power to accommodate their needs, even in the most difficult moments. She brought a calming, joyous presence to the program, and I will never forget her kindness and warmth. Overall, this experience has affirmed my interest in public health, and I hope to continue to be involved in the future.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Melanie Friedel, Horace Mann Elementary

I remember being impressed and amazed during my first tour of Horace Mann Elementary School. I was greeted in the lobby by the sound of the peaceful trickle of water behind a wall of luscious vegetation, and charmed throughout the hallways by student-created signs encouraging energy conservation. My elementary school as a child was certainly not this advanced; it’s incredible that these students will learn the importance of connecting with nature from an early age. The school’s mission is to celebrate curiosity, connection, community, and environmental and nature education. There are native gardens, lots of green spaces and a very sunny and biophilic architectural design. I chose this organization as my CSLP site because, as an Environmental Science major, I am particularly interested in sustainable food and agriculture systems, which is also a part of Horace Mann’s programs. I have been connecting my volunteer work to my International Food and Agriculture Politics course, a Special Topics section of SISU-350.

Horace Mann has a Garden to Table Program to teach students about the importance of local, fresh and healthy food. In the program, crops are planted and cultivated in the indoor Messy Lab and when the plants are ready, the students have the opportunity to plant them outside at Mann Farms and learn to care for them. Herbs, lettuce and other greens are also grown indoors and on the rooftop with aeroponic towers (a vertical gardening technology), and these greens are used to make a weekly salad for the students. I have been volunteering as an intern in the Garden to Table Program, where I inspect and maintain the crops growing on aeroponic towers, plant and care for seed trays under grow lights, and help the flow of crop movement and growth go smoothly. I also help out with the vermicompost, in which vegetable and plant waste decompose, combined with newspaper, occasional water mist, and earthworms to help move things along. The worms eventually create a nutrient-rich material that can be used as sustainable fertilizer in the farms. I maintained and inspected the compost bin with other interns.

Going into this program, I was hoping to learn about the physical experience of growing food and working with plants and about the actual process of sustainable farming. In several courses, I have learned theories in support of local food, sustainable and urban farming, community engagement, and the viability of new technologies like the aeroponic towers at Horace Mann, so the desire to be a part of these things in a hands-on, outside-of-the-classroom way is what brought me to volunteer at Horace Mann. Because of fluctuating weather patterns this season, we haven’t gotten to transplant any crops into the outdoor plots yet, so I haven’t had the chance to dig in the dirt outside, but my expectation of learning the inner workings of vertical systems was certainly met.

It has been really exciting and inspiring to work in a community that prioritizes critical issues of healthy, fresh and nutritious food and sustainable agriculture. It has been especially interesting to see how urban agriculture systems function; they are very time and energy intensive. It takes organization to keep charts and logs of every propagated crop, it takes attention to detail to inspect each seedling and survey the health of newborn tomato plants, and it takes time to place one pepper seed a quarter of an inch deep in each of 108 Rockwool cubes. This experience has allowed me to understand more about the content I discuss in class; now, rather than just thinking of aeroponic towers as a futuristic solution to all of our problems of agriculture, I know how it really works, what goes into it, and the complex planning, knowledge, and care that is required for vertical farming.

But the effort I put in has been worth the reward: seeing children get excited about worms, plants, and especially the chicks and chickens that were added to the program just a few weeks ago. There’s something fulfilling about seeing and smelling several towers of lush, flourishing basil that just a month ago was a seed in an unopened packet, and watching that cycle come full circle, knowing that the students will be eating fresh, organic pesto next week, and knowing that I had a part in making that happen.


Margaret Bernauer, Young Ladies of Tomorrow

Hi my name is Maggie Bernauer, I am a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and I am majoring in CLEG. I added on the CSLP credit to my Writing 101 course. For my community service-learning project, I worked with an organization called Young Ladies of Tomorrow. YLOT is an aftercare program that works with young girls who have entered the juvenile justice system. The mission of this organization is to address the needs of at risk urban females and help them to identify a root issue and grow and learn as young adults. The social issue this organization is addressing is the racial and economic disparities within the juvenile justice system and how to ensure at-risk youth get a fair chance at life. The work I have been doing is relating to one of their summer programs called Summer Youth Employment Program, I am developing the curriculum for this program. Once the program starts, I will still be working with program in leading the lessons plans that I created during the semester. For this program, I expected there to be more guidance in the work I was doing. When there was no guidance at all and just a curriculum I had to plan, I just did the work to the best of my ability. Which taught me a big lesson, because I realized after having to redo some of the work that it is better to ask questions about things up front and communicate to understand what exactly they want from me and so everyone is on the same page. Since my writing 101 course is rooted in social justice I have been able to connect the social justice issues I have been exposed to at YLOT to the scholarly articles and discussions we have had in writing about racial, gender, and economic issues. I have learned that it is important to speak up for yourself in a work place to have good communication. Also when in small organizations like YLOT all help and work is useful and it is important to be engaged and interested in your work.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Julia Flum, Martha’s Table

Throughout my childhood and even today, I have always been told “do not judge a book by its cover”. Just as if were not to choose a class by its name and how we should read the description first I knew I had to take the class “Poverty and Culture” with Professor Curtin. Poverty and Culture was a class perfect for me because both the words “poverty” and “culture” captivated my attention. Since, I have an increasing passion for giving back within the community, I knew if I took this class it would be beneficial to increase my knowledge about the history and modern day poverty. Throughout my entire life, I have always been involved with volunteering for nonprofit organizations, organizing food and clothing drives, as well as helping to end the war on poverty and hunger. The CSLP program was a perfect fit because I would be able to connect the coursework to the real world. Through the coursework in the class, I learned about the history and origin of poverty as well as the ongoing fight for equality within the impoverished parts of the United States.

My name is Julia Flum, and I am a law and society major here at American University. For my spring semester, I have had the privilege to volunteer with an impactful organization called Martha’s Table. Martha’ Table was established over 37 years ago in order to promote more courageous children, families and communities. Martha’s Table has a passion to provide a quality education, affordable clothing, and healthy free meals in order to secure a better future for D.C. residents. Additionally, Martha’s Table constituted a safe space for community members to receive support such as welcoming a no-cost mini market, a food truck that goes to established downtown D.C. locations, a distributed hot meals, as well as an affordable outlet store for community members to shop. In addition to community support, education programs are also included in this amazing organization. The education program is an early childhood, healthy start program that helps children ensure the skills they need to ensure academic and life success. The food access program ensures access to healthy, fresh, food that supports strong families, children and communities. There are multiple robust markets throughout the month in which Martha’s Table brings to community centers.

Martha’s Table is a prominent organization that addresses multiple social issues. The social issues addressed within this organization are; poverty, hunger, and education. For example, Martha’s Table is helping to fight against poverty and hunger by serving free healthy meals to D.C. residents. I volunteered for dinner and dishes, which was where I helped arrange meals, distribute meals, and cleaned the dishes. For this volunteer opportunity, we set up a table outside which included a hot and cold drink, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or a meat sandwich, which was donated by schools or companies, a hot dinner, and snacks. Anyone can come outside of Martha’s Table and be served a healthy, warm, and delicious meal. My first time volunteering with dinner and dishes I expected hundreds of people waiting to be served, but I realized there was not that many people in line. In my poverty and culture class, we learned about segregation and homelessness. There were palaces established that incorporated education and food programs just like Martha’s Table did. While operating in the community, I learned that there are so many resources out there for homeless people to go to. There are multiple organizations where they can seek help and free food. As a student in this class, volunteering has demonstrated a vulnerable connection to what I see through my eyes and what I heard and learned in class.

Volunteering can change your world. Giving back to my community has helped me acknowledge the outside world and allows me to realize what happens in my community and how my community is being transformed. By volunteering throughout the semester, I learned that you get more than you give. As I dedicated my time with Martha’s Table, I realized that organizations relied on their volunteers and donors. I recommend to my friends, classmates, and community members to go out there and sign up. Get involved, however you chose, no matter what your background is. You will learn. You will be inspired. You will learn to appreciate life more and more every day.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Beverly Ramos Lopez, Crossroads Community Food Network

My name is Beverly Ramos Lopez and I have always had a strong interest in nutrition and how the importance of it could be shared. Therefore, as a second year in Health Promotion at American University I was able to register for the HPRM 205 Nutrition course. However, because we were going to learn so much great content in the classroom that I wanted to take part outside as I have before through The Community Service Learning Program so I could learn how the knowledge I am learning is relative to my community.

I reached out to Crossroads Community Food Network because their mission is about not just expanding healthy food access but also teaching the young minds in the community how to make health food choices by empowering them. Crossroads first began with the hope of increasing the access of fresh and healthy food to all families in the area. Takoma has various areas in the community that range with different socioeconomic status, but Crossroads makes it their goal to provide for all these household regardless of their background. They hold Crossroads Farmers Market from April until November yearly and were the first Market in Maryland to launch the “double dollar” incentive program. In this way it would allow families to use their federal benefits in a fresh farmer’s market without the fear of not having enough funds to take part. In addition, it empowers community members to take lead in not just where they purchase their food but also on them having a choice to make healthy eating choices, providing a sense of power for their health. Crossroads addresses the issue of providing healthy food access through their Farmers Market to all households regardless of the socioeconomic gap by approving federal benefits and providing many resources for the community.

As a volunteer with Crossroads Community Food Network I assist with the Healthy Eating Program, help with Community Outreach, and help reach a greater audience by now translating resources such as recipes and manuals. In the Healthy Eating Program, I am able to join the children of Piney Branch Elementary School during interactive sessions where they have farmer visits, food tastings, and cooking lessons in order to teach them about healthy eating. For the Community Outreach I travel with other volunteers around the neighborhood in order to share information and promote the Crossroads Farmers Market. We invite everyone and anyone whether it is too little shops nearby or families that are familiar with the area, there is something for everyone at the Market. Since I am bilingual and many members of the Community are part of Spanish speaking households I started to translate some of their resources in order to increase the access they could have not just at the Market but also at home when they look for recipes or wish to know more.

My expectations were somewhat different than what I really do now because I had originally signed up to help with the Healthy Eating Program and Community Outreach. For the Healthy Eating Program, I thought I would be more involved in the process of learning how to lead one of the sessions but I understand that because I am not a staff member they cannot train me if I could only be part of the Program once a week. Therefore, I help mostly with whatever the Health Educator needs but I learned that it is still a great opportunity to gain experience on how nutrition is the main component and drive of their mission. For Community Outreach I thought I would be at booths in different areas and taking part in sharing flyers throughout the community. Since there is no specific area we can reach all the community members we do not stay in one place rather go from door to door to invite everyone. This was not particularly a challenge but it was very different than the outreach I had done before; my communication skills were very crucial in these moments because I had to learn how to approach people in a welcoming manner without making them feel uncomfortable.

As I volunteer I am able to connect general concepts in the classroom to Crossroads’ purpose, the mission expands healthy food access to members in the community. The benefits of shopping at local markets tie in really well to how the Healthy Eating Program brings in farmers into the classrooms to share with the children on what it means to grow fresh produce in a nearby farm. Exposing these insights in the classroom is crucial because it allows children to understand the benefits and risks that come with purchasing processed foods versus purchasing food from the farmer’s market. When they take part in creating their own food it allows them to realize healthy eating is possible and is not just for those who have time or money but can be possible. While volunteering at Crossroads I have learned that teaching about healthy eating involves both effort and resources but it all starts with effort and knowledge becomes the most powerful resource. Thanks to my learning I have taken initiative and sent a proposal to start a Healthy Eating Class in the community youth program I took part of when I was back home, it has been approved and I am now in the process to continue developing the program that will be offered for their summer session.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Allison Halford, SOME-Isaiah House

The District of Columbia is not just the picturesque capital of our nation, with monuments and cherry blossoms. It is a city just like any other that is going through changes. These changes with gentrification are harming D.C. residents. The homeless rates in D.C. are on the rise yet there are few places for them to go to seek shelter, or resources to get out of homelessness. People that are homeless are at higher risk for many diseases, both communicable and chronic, that cause health problems they often do not have coverage for. This gap in care expands to the mentally ill, who are at higher risk for being homeless. The city needs to care about these populations that lack many health resources.

So Others May Eat (SOME) is a community-based organization that provides resources and services for the homeless and poor within D.C. This includes meals, clothing, housing, job training, counseling, and more. SOME has multiple locations that serve different groups within the homeless and poor community. These include the dining hall, clinic, and family center, among others. The location I volunteered with was Isaiah House, a day center for the homeless and mentally ill. Isaiah House provides breakfast and lunch, laundry, shower rooms, toiletries, clothing, counseling services, and a safe environment. The community created by the staff and interns at Isaiah House creates an enjoyable and relaxing environment for participants, with fun activities planned monthly. With different groups like meditation, sound empowerment, health group, and art group there is a clear focus on staying healthy both mentally and physically.

At Isaiah House, my main responsibilities were serving lunch, talking with the clients, and helping with health group. Health group is every week on Wednesdays and the topic changes based on what the clients want to know more about. A medical student working in the SOME clinic comes and presents on an important health topic as she answers their many questions. For two of the weeks I was volunteering, another volunteer and I were in charge of health group focusing on the immune system and smoking. When serving lunch, it is not always the most nutritionally balanced meals, but they are good meals that are provided for the clients. Once a month a chef comes in to do a healthy cooking demonstration and cook lunch the next week. I usually assist the chef with preparing her equipment for the demonstration and serving the lunches she makes. However, the largest aspect of what I do when volunteering is talking with the clients. Communication and connection are very important for mental health. These conversations I have with clients and the relationships I have built with them are important for my learning, both toward my course and in life lessons, and for the client. They love to share about their experiences and to hear about mine. Spending 40 hours with these repeat clients allows me to get to know them beyond their names, and while they do not share their entire story, they like to teach lessons that they wish they knew when they were my age. Having a person to interact with helps combat loneliness, which can negatively harm health.

My experiences at Isaiah House connect in many ways to Intro to Health Promotion HPRM 240. In class, we learn about nutrition and the chef teaches similar things in her cooking demonstrations. These demonstrations are also a good health promotion technique to educate populations about what nutrients are important to get and what foods to find them in. The health groups are usually about things I have learned in health promotion or my other health classes, and I learn the most from hearing the questions from the clients. These show what they do not know about some topics that many people know about. It also reveals a lot about health care and how that system works for those with mental illness or homeless. Many of the clients have at least one health issue, diabetes and hypertension, some of the most common. Many also have problems with receiving health care and have to travel to different centers for different health needs. The lessons I have learned from the clients at Isaiah House and the structure of the center itself, taught me a lot about the concepts I am learning in health promotion. Going into the volunteering I was expecting to learn some about the concepts, but I underestimated the amount of connections to class and how organizations implement health promotion techniques that we learned in class.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Samantha Miller, Common Good City Farm

Environmental justice is a phrase that points out that sadly, those who are poor and politically weak tend to bear the most adverse impacts of environmental inequalities.[i] My work with Common Good City Farm  has been working to alleviate one type of environmental assault, food deserts.  Food deserts are areas where residents don’t have access to full scale grocery stores. The problem in D.C. is so adverse that residents in ward 8 only have three full scale grocery stores for 69,047 residents. [ii] When confronted with this information, I instantly felt a moral obligation to act. This semester, I wanted to work with an urban farm for two reasons, first, I wanted to feel as if I was an active agent for positive change, and secondly, I wanted to expand my understandings of agriculture and farm management.

I am an undergraduate student majoring in environmental studies and minoring in international relations. I decided to supplement the work done in my environmental sustainability and global health class by working with the urban farm Common Good City Farm. Common Good is dedicated to increasing the presence of small scale sustainable agriculture in an urban setting. They believe that their work can foster a healthy vibrant community through the provision of fresh produce to residents. They have been around since 2007, and in this time, they have provided over 10 tons of food for the community. They have done this with the help of over 3,000 volunteers, and 4,500 students in educational programs. Their work is targeted towards public health and food policy. The work done through the farm addresses sustainability, public health, nutrition, and food justice.

Each day that I volunteer my duties include preparing the beds for harvest, as well was sowing seeds in the beds. I work with other volunteers and the farm manager to ensure that all beds are the correct size without any weeds, and we work together to germinate seeds and plant various types of greens such as collards, and kale. The past few weeks have taught me a lot more than I originally expected. The process of farming has made me more connected to the methods of creating and growing food, and from this I have gained a greater appreciation and awareness of food production in general. I have a greater appreciation for those who spend their days doing manual labor on farms, because I can now understand all the effort and management it takes to bring food to my plate each day. I feel as if I have gained a well needed practical understanding of food deserts, food policy, and farm management.

One major takeaway from this experience would be that as environmentalists, we need to be more attuned to the communities needs throughout the process of combating environmental inequalities. Within these pasts few weeks the farm has been vandalized three different times, and from discussions with the farm manager, I can understand that this resentment comes from the fact that the community hasn’t been involved with common good in any collaborative manner. Though they have been in the location for 10 years now, community members still view common good as outsiders. This lesson in community dynamics has greatly affected my ideas and perceptions about environmental justice. I am grateful to have had the chance to work with Common good over the semester, and I leave knowing I have gained invaluable experiential knowledge and I can apply this to my studies and jobs in the future.

[i] Paul Wapner and Richard Matthew (2009), “The Humanity of Global Environmental Ethics,” Journal of Environment and Development, Vol. 18, no. 2, May.


The Experience, Uncategorized

Emily Ganem, Horace Mann Elementary School

As classes started this semester, I felt like I wanted to get something more out of my

coursework. I learned about the Community Service Learning Project (CSLP) add-on credit. This was a great option to get more experience in the field of Environmental Studies. I was able to be connected with local organizations that were searching for volunteers and interns to assist with community outreach to help improve and promote environmental sustainability. In the class Intro to Environmental Science (II), we delve into natural resources in the context of sustainability. One thing my professor stresses the importance of is being able to communicate what we learn about the natural world, climate change, and resource management. After all, the information we learn in any class is not valuable if we do not know how to share it.

After showing interest in doing a CSLP add-on credit, I was connected with Horace Mann Elementary School by American University. Mann Farms, a program within the school, has many volunteer interns a semester to help with various parts of educating students from kindergarten through fifth grade on the environment and healthy eating. This program includes aeroponic towers for gardening and harvesting leafy vegetables that are later used in a weekly meal provided to the students at lunch. This also includes a food education class that combines healthy eating and growing food locally. There are also roof top garden beds and a community garden for seasonal gardening.

The main job for me at Horace Mann was working to run the after school farmer’s market program. The school is connected with Common Market, an organization that connects the schools to local family-run farms around the DC area. Parents and the surrounding community can support Mann Farms by placing pre-ordered grocery bags from a list of produce that will be available at the farmer’s market. Once the produce is ordered from the farms by the school, students help to sort produce and bag preorders. One of my main roles was to help different classes each week bag the preorders, but also teach them briefly about sustainable farming and about produce. This part of my CSLP experience was probably my favorite. It surprised me how much students could get excited about nature and where their food came from. It also made me realize that talking about sustainability with young children is a great way to get them to care about environmental issues and bring them home to parents.

My second main role at Horace Mann was to help run the farmer’s market. At the market, I helped the five market club members sell the produce from Common Market. Watching and aiding the members in community outreach and seeing them translate their care for locally and sustainably sourced food to members of the community, and seeing that reflected back from customers, was rewarding.

Horace Mann is very lucky to have the Mann Farms program. Before touring the school, I expected limited resources. Instead, I saw the program affected many parts of the students’ daily activities. The school integrates sustainable practices from food sharing programs to the way the building is designed, to educate the students about healthy environmental practices. Instilling these practices as norms seems to be an effective practice, as many parents volunteer to garden or run nature clubs, and students are already excited when I speak to them about sustainable farming practices.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Miguel Ortiguera, The Carlos Rosario School

My name is Miguel Ortiguera, and I am a political science major in the class of 2020. The CSLP class I am taking is called Poverty and Culture and I am working with the Carlos Rosario School, which focuses on helping immigrants adjust to life in the U.S, learn English, and specifically what I am doing, and gain their citizenship. The Carlos Rosario School is a nonprofit charter school and admission is completely free to those who need it. Their mission is to help immigrants become as successful as they can be in the U.S. At the site I give mock interviews to people who are preparing to take the citizenship exam, and every Wednesday I help teach the citizenship course, which focuses on civics, specific parts of the citizenship exam and gives a chance for students to practice their English. I expected there to be a language barrier with the students, as many of them are immigrants and speak very little English, however the language barrier was much larger than I expected. In the past I’ve had experience with people who don’t speak the best English, but some students have a very hard time speaking English. The citizenship exam is required to be taken in all English unless you meet special requirements and some students have a very hard time understanding that and sticking to all English. In spite of the language barrier, the students I’ve worked with have all been great people and eager to learn, despite some difficulties. Also, some students have really surprised me with their civics knowledge and I could really tell that they worked hard and studied for the exam. In fact, one student I helped already passed her exam and will become a citizen at the next ceremony.

Our class deals with poverty, and while many of the students at Carlos Rosario aren’t destitute their experiences still cover the “culture” part of my class. We have learned that poverty often affects certain groups the most and immigrants, who are the clear majority of Carlos Rosario students, are one of those groups. Seeing how hard these people have to work to overcome language barriers to communicate in day to day life has been enlightening and shows to me how hard some people have to work just to survive daily. In addition, many of the students work during the day and take classes at night further showing how hard they work just to learn English and adjust to the culture of a new country. From the students I’ve learned how much work these immigrants have to do to adjust to life in the U.S, and its no wonder why many of them are impoverished. So my site has reinforced the concepts we’ve learned in class and even added some things.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Sasha Estrada, AYUDA

As a Freshman at American University and seeing everyone finding new ways to get involved on and off campus I wondered how and where I could start. One of the reasons I chose to come to AU last spring was because I had heard about all these students telling me first and how they got involved in the community and were able to give back and that is something I wanted to. I am a political science major and have always showed interest in working in law. Having grown up around a large immigrant population, and my parents coming here from Mexico just a few years before I was born, I had an interest in the immigration aspect and how the process worked.

Second semester came and I had signed up for my writing class that is titled WRTG 101-005 Your Social Justice Revolution. The reason I signed up for the class is because of my increased interest in learning and writing about something I care about, immigration. The first day of class Professor Choutka mentioned to us that because of the course title and the areas we would be covering our class had the option to attach a CSLP credit and complete the 40 hours of community service on a social justice issue we are passionate about. After signing up and meeting with my advisor I ended up at Ayuda.

Ayuda translates to help in English, which I find a fitting name because of the work they do for people. It is an organization that specializes in helping low-income immigrants get the legal, social, and language services they need in the DC metropolitan area. The organization was founded in 1973 and is about to celebrate their 45th anniversary in May. Ayuda has helped me realize that immigration law does not only fall under assisting those through the immigration process, but that it spreads out to other branches of law as well. From domestic violence cases, family law, need for interpreters, immigration, to human trafficking Ayuda helps a wide variety of people get the help they need, especially when they may have been hesitant to seek help otherwise because of their legal status.

At Ayuda I am volunteering under their Domestic Violence and Family Law Branch. I primarily focus on the administrative aspect of what they do. I am in charge of reviewing closed case files and transferring them onto the computer digitally. While this may not appear to be the hands on approach that people primarily look for when volunteering, I am able to see and read firsthand how this organization has helped so many people overtime.  I have also been able to go to events that Ayuda is invited to and most recently went with some staff members to the Victims Legal Network Launch to reveal the opening of another organization that helps connect people to specific organizations within 24 hours. I am glad that I was able to attend the event because I got to hear personal stories, meet other great organizations who do similar work, and even meet people who started out at Ayuda.

Entering my volunteer sight and meeting with the volunteer coordinator Laura Catania I did not know what to expect. I knew I wouldn’t be dealing with cases hands on because I had no legal experience and have not undergone training to interact with potential clients one on one. I came in expecting to be more behind the scenes and had the attitude to help where I can. I remember coming into the office the first day and meeting all these welcoming faces in such a positive atmosphere and being told about what Ayuda does and some of the people they’ve helped. I met with Erin Larkin who is the Associate Director for the DV/FL (Domestic Violence and Family Law) branch and she walked me through what I would be doing and worked with my availability to help make a schedule. Overall, my time here has been productive and the workers here are more than welcome to asking any questions I have about what Ayuda does and even interested in hearing what brought me into their office.

The theme of my writing class is Your Social Justice Revolution and I feel that my volunteer sight can greatly connect to this because it is a social justice movement that I am passionate about. My first paper in the class discussed how immigration is portrayed in the media, and during the writing process I was able to learn more about how location plays a huge factor on what is put in and what is withheld when discussing controversial issues such as immigration. With immigration being brought up more frequently, I have realized that it has now become the forefront for some issues and motive for actions. Volunteering here at Ayuda has definitely sprung some new possible ideas and areas of interest I want to continue to look into in the immigration field and I cannot wait to continue to be involved in helping a site that does so much.

The Experience, Uncategorized

Janelle Gray, Operation Understanding D.C

Amelia Boynton Robinson, a prominent Civil Rights activist and leader of the Civil Rights movement in Selma made this statement, “You can never know where you are going unless you know where you have been.” Throughout the United States children everywhere are receiving the invaluable gift of an education. However, for students with diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds the education that they are receiving fails to tell the story of oppression and hardship that formed their history and shapes their current experience. In the SIS and History course, Introduction to Anti-Racism, taught by Professor Christopher Petrella, we learn that when students are not taught from the perspective of the oppressed they will not have knowledge of nor be able to confront the systemic issues that plague today’s society. In my own service work with Operation Understanding D.C., I have learned the importance of approaching education honestly and holistically in order to ensure that students are able to knowledgeably confront injustice.

Operation Understanding D.C. is a non-profit organization committed to the eradication of racism and anti-Semitism. They believe that this can best be achieved by training and educating African-American and Jewish high school students from D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia, to be leaders who promote empathy, respect, and cooperation in their communities. To accomplish this OUDC takes twenty high school students through a six-month intensive education program. This program begins by taking the student to workshops, lectures, and meetings where they learn the history of African-Americans and Jews. Then, the students go on a “Summer Journey” in which they travel to the Deep South to obtain first-hand accounts from Civil Rights era leaders and activist while simultaneously sharing their stories in order to learn how to tear down racial, religious, and ideological barriers. In the last part of the program the students take part in speechwriting courses that lead them to facilitate prejudice reducing workshops in schools, houses of worship, and other organizations throughout the D.C. area. Ultimately, these students work to build bridges across cultural lines in order to end discrimination using education as their greatest tool.

As a volunteer at Operation Understanding D.C. I work with the program director to help create and format the events and activities that the students will go through at each stage of the program. In the past few months, I have assisted procuring facilities for OUDC to hold events and with connecting the organization with other community organizers and educational institutions such as Historically Black Universities. Furthermore, in my days in the office I also assist with the development of reflective activities for the students to participate in at the weekly workshops they attend. At the beginning of my time with OUDC, I did not know what to expect. I was uncertain how far reaching the program was or the extent of their impact on students within the D.C area. What I have discovered is how powerful education truly is in shaping the perspective and experiences of students who are racially and ethnically diverse or otherwise. Recently, I attended a workshop in which the students participated in activities and discussions that addressed the problems faced by refugees and immigrants within the United States. In this workshop I saw students 16, 17, and 18 years old black and Jewish, put themselves in the position of immigrants and refugees. In doing so they were able to break down the barriers between them while simultaneously connecting what they had learned in school about those issues to the reality of what they were discussing in the session. I observed as a black student spoke about how growing up in the projects of D.C. where the majority of his friends were gang members makes him feel like he is refugee in his own country while students whose ancestors are Holocaust survivors shared the same sentiment. This experience reminded me of the many discussions that I have participated in while in the Introduction to Anti-racism course in which we learn to approach issues of race, systematic oppression, and prejudice through the lens of anti-racist ideology.

As an SIS student I learn the ways in which to confront the problems facing countries all around the world but rarely do we discuss the societal problems that are harming the communities within our own backyard. However, by working with OUDC I was able to connect my coursework to real life experiences while learning how to solve issues within American society and abroad.

The Experience

Beth Taormina, Campus Kitchens

As a student originally from the laid-back Pacific Northwest, it was a jarring experience to move out to D.C. to study Public Health and adapt to the East Coast lifestyle. I felt out of place and disoriented by my new fast paced lifestyle, but most of all I was no longer engaged in a community I was close to. This lack of community connection in my new home is what drew me to the Community Service Learning Project (CSLP) at American University. The CSLP credit has provided me the opportunity to find and connect with amazing organizations in the DMV area.

I selected Campus Kitchen in Glover Park to be my main volunteer site throughout the semester. Campus Kitchen is a student-powered hunger relief organization with the mission of “using existing resources to meet hunger and nutritional needs of communities and to empower students through leadership and service learning opportunities” (Campus Kitchen, 2018). The location I specifically volunteered at focused on providing nutritional meals to the homeless and immunocompromised population in DC. I worked closely with Chef Anthony, the head chef at the Glover Park site, to prepare meals every Wednesday and Saturday. The meal preparation activities varied from day to day. Somedays I would sort through and repackage recently donated food, which would later be dispersed among other Campus Kitchen locations in the area. Other days I would be hard at work in the kitchen learning how to peel and dice fruits and vegetables.

I did not enter this service project with many expectations. I’ve learned from various experiences it is better for me to approach a situation with an open mind and minimal preconceived notions rather than expectations. On that note, I had an absolutely amazing time at Campus Kitchen and plan to continue volunteering there after this semester. Chef Anthony is what made this experience truly special! He is such a kind, welcoming person and is deeply passionate about the work he does. It was a little surprising that I never had a chance to interact with the population we were serving. I was only able to sign up for the Kitchen Shift volunteer hours due to conflicting work and class schedules. I chose to connect the CSLP to my Health Research Methods course. This volunteer experience applies to the course because the precursor to and good research is a deeper understanding of the community and their needs. It is important to spend time with target population and make sure their voices are heard. It plays a critical role in the research process.


Mary Kate Fogarty, Mary’s Center

When we hear the words “public health,” we often associate the work this group of health professionals does as strictly clinical, or as a very medicine-based line of work. Since coming to American University, I have realized that public health is so much more than treating patients on a day-to-day basis. Public health is within everything we do, and one overwhelmingly important part of this overall field of bettering health is health promotion. I have been fortunate enough to gain exposure to health promotion through my introductory class taught by Professor Jody Gan. I knew that I wanted to explore this facet of public health more, and even in a real world setting, so I figured completing my Community Service Learning Project would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

Looking for an organization to work with proved more challenging than expected, but once I found Mary’s Center, I knew it was going to be an amazing experience. In 1988, founder and current CEO of Mary’s Center Maria S. Gomez realized there was an influx of Latin American immigrants migrating to the United States during this time. She saw mothers with no access to prenatal care and women who were survivors of sexual violence with nowhere to turn. So that same year, she opened Mary’s Center as a place where the health needs of mother’s could be met. Fast forward to today, and Mary’s Center has become a Community Health Center that serves over 50,000 men, women, and children within the DC metropolitan area. The center has grown to 7 DC locations and one location in Maryland. What started out as a place for mother’s to find help has become one of the largest and most functional Community Health networks in the DC area.

Mary’s Center has based their mission and their work off the Social Change Model. This model is used in health promotion and health care delivery, and operates under the idea that treating individuals and families for just their health problems does not help overcome the multitude of life challenges they may face at any time, and instead looks at all areas of pressure in their lives to deliver intersectional health care, social support, and education to begin a path for a better life. This model functions in a way that Mary’s Center is not just about healthcare — it is about creating the best possible life outcomes for their patients in all situations. The Social Change Model is so important within health promotion because it is so personable; it allows for a more human point of view in trying to make a big change in a person’s life.

While at Mary’s Center, I have been lucky enough to have been placed within their health promotion department, which aligns perfectly with my introductory class. So far at the site, I have been completing tasks to better their health education materials that are passed out to patients who might benefit from a little more guidance or an extra resource that addresses a specific health or nutrition topic. For example, I created two new nutrition education materials binders for the health promotion team so that what they are handing out to their patients is current and up to date information that is disseminated from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Agriculture. It is very important that materials such as these are easily accessible to all of the patients of Mary’s Center, so all of the health and nutrition education materials are printed in both English and Spanish in order to cater to all.

In terms of me, I went into this with no expectations, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I am learning and how much I am enjoying this experience. It is truly awesome how quickly I was able to make connections to my class and to the work I have been doing at Mary’s Center, through things like the health education materials and seeing the Social Change Model in action. The biggest lesson that I have learned is that every little detail and material matters when you are dealing with an organization that has grown to be as encompassing as Mary’s Center has. So while it may seem insignificant to an outsider how many copies of the My Plate guidelines for children are made, to a health promotion professional it is very important so that all children have an equal opportunity to be informed about healthy eating. Overall, this has been a rewarding experience, and I could not be more happy with the decision that I made in completing my CSLP.


Jingxian Zhao, Iona Senior Services

While attending American University majoring in psychology, I found a great opportunity that I can do community service in order to hone my knowledge based on what I learn in my PSYC-115 Psychology as Natural Science class, which offered by the Community Service-Learning Program. As an international student, I have always wanted to dive into the community and learn more about the culture. I chose to volunteer at IONA Senior Service, where took on a new life as the home of a program created to provide social services to people in the surrounding neighborhoods. I supposed that I can learn the later life stages from the elders and get the evidence applied to my psychology class.

I was given a 2-hour training at the beginning of the program, which provided me knowledge of how to de-stress the elders when an emergency happens as well as the best gestures to physically support them from a potential tumble. It was surely a very helpful and valuable training.

I learned from their experiences. One of the most impressive moments that happened is when I listened carefully to an elder rumbling, even though he could not express what he wanted to say clearly, but based on the fragments, I can actually see that he keeps thinking deeply, philosophically, and it was absolutely thought-provoking. Every time either I talk or just simply listen to them, I am given another pair of eyes to look at the world, explore the society in different perspectives. Their stories can give me a wonderful insight of understanding more about the culture, history as well as the human experience over time. They have a wealth of knowledge and stories to share and lots of time to patiently listen to mine. I’d greatly appreciate it.

I am inspired. Working with elders gives me valuable insight into the aging process and what’s to come. Giving me an opportunity to recognize what matters most in life and me as a youngster, have many access to explore great things.

I like to make a difference to their days. For elders with the high level of care needed, extra support is always invaluable. With proper, attentive and respectful care, I can ensure that they retain their dignity and independence during the later stages of life. It is definitely a great accomplishment and rewarding achievability, knowing that I have turned what could have been a difficult day into a great one, full of laughter and joyful vibe.

I am appreciated based on the company and what I do for them. Nothing feels greater than being helpful and being appreciated. Many elders look forward to interacting with me as a caregiver and I love to empathize and friendly present my supports to make the best possibility to make them good days. Many of them would express gratitude constantly, which makes me feel worthy spending time at IONA.

In conclusion, working with the elders and the friendly staffs teaches me precious life courses, also am grateful that I am treated sincerely. As a psychology student, it is not difficult to notice that there is psychological phenomenon happening around. Not only natural science in terms of mental functions, but also the social interactions which referred to the way of dealing with anxious elders. Overall, it is a great experience.


Kate Carr, Iona Senior Services’ Farm-to-Table Porgram

Last semester I took a nutrition class to fulfill one of my last Gen Ed requirements. I was somewhat interested in nutrition and wanted to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle while in college. However, I learnt so much about the social factors that influence nutrition that I decided to add a major in Public Health to my degree. I became especially interested in food access and the disparities certain populations face when it comes to nutrition and access to healthy foods. D.C. in particular has serious food access disparities. Although Ward 3, where AU is located, has eight grocery stores, Wards 7 and 8 share only 3.

While looking for an organization to volunteer at I came across Iona Senior Services and their Farm-to-Table intern position. After some research and few discussions with members of Iona’s staff I learnt that senior citizens are an at-risk population for food insecurity and generally struggle to eat nutritious meals. I currently volunteer with their Farm-to-Table program which works to provide seniors, specifically low-income seniors, with nutritious foods and nutrition education.

Iona Senior Services is the Ward 3 lead agency on aging and aims to support individuals “as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging” through education, advocacy, and community-based programs. The nutrition program at Iona includes home-delivered meals, nutrition supplements, an emergency food pantry, a wellness program which provides nutritious lunches, and the Farm-to-Table Program.

Most of my work has been related to the Farm-to-Table program which provides free fresh produce to seniors.  On Sundays, I collect donated local produce from various farmers at the DuPont Circle Farmers’ Market which are then brought to one of the two program sites. In addition to providing fresh and nutritious foods to seniors who otherwise wouldn’t have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, the Farm-to-Table program reduces food waste and supports local farms.

One of the market locations is the Active Wellness Program at St. Albans which offers heart-healthy activities and meals for older adults. About once a month Iona’s nutrition program also puts together a food demonstration for participants which includes nutrition education as well as recipes and samples. Last month I joined Iona’s Nutritional Program Manager in a food demonstration of fermented foods which was just as educational and enjoyable for me as well as the participants.

Within the short amount of time I’ve spent at Iona I’ve learnt so much more about nutrition as senior health than I ever thought possible. Working directly with a population with various interconnected health and social concerns has really helped me put what I’ve learnt in class into context. In my Introduction to Health Promotion we’ve discussed how important it is to understand the various barriers of health individuals and groups face and the specific health concerns of populations when designing a health promotion program. Iona clearly knows the health concerns of their clients and seniors in the area as a whole and creates programs targeted to specific populations of seniors.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at Iona and have learnt so much about various fields including gardening, aquaponics, senior wellness, nutrition, food policy and access, transportation, and housing. I hope to continue learning more about senior health and continue to work towards improving senior health and increasing awareness of health disparities faced by seniors.


Doreen Yan, A Wider Circle

Poverty and hunger are often portrayed as existing only in developing countries but in reality, food insecurity and malnutrition exists in many D.C. communities. Food insecurity indicates that the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food, is limited or uncertain for a household. In much of D.C., low-income individuals and families, who lack resources such as cars and nearby grocery stores, are hit especially hard with hunger. Highland Dwellings and Additions are two communities I have been working with where food insecurity is a big issue they face.

The organization I chose to fulfill my Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) credit was A Wider Circle. I have been working at their satellite office in the Washington Highlands, which is located in Ward 8. I work largely with two projects, the community garden and cookbook, where I am able to utilize the topics discussed in my Introduction to Nutrition class. Highland Dwellings and Additions are both communities under D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), where the majority of residents are low-income. In efforts to increase food security in the two communities, A Wider Circle is currently developing a community garden and community cookbook. With help from the residents, the goal is to maintain a healthy garden with an abundance of produce that can later be incorporated into healthy and nutritious recipes.

The most important factor into developing the garden and cookbook was to hear the needs of the residents. Many expressed what they would like to see growing in the garden and also shared their favorite recipes to put into the cookbook. Through a survey that the residents completed, diabetes and high cholesterol were the two main concerns in many households. Many also reported that they would often feel hungry because there wasn’t enough food in the house. When helping A Wider Circle to brainstorm ideas for the cookbook, I was able to apply the concepts of my class to address these concerns. I presented the idea to have a section of the cookbook provide alternatives for ingredients that are better for diabetics and those with high cholesterol. That way, the cookbook could also have a nutrition education aspect to it. For example, informing cooks to replace saturated fatty foods with unsaturated fats and incorporate more fiber-rich foods and complex carbs. I also had the opportunity to connect with the residents and learn about their diets and eating habits. Through my conversations with them, I was able to draw upon the concepts discussed in class to suggest different ways to improve diets and minimize risk of diseases. In doing so, I learned how closely related poverty and socioeconomic status are to malnutrition. Many residents spoke to me about wanting healthier food options for their families, but not being able to afford it. By developing a community garden, the residents are taking matters into their own hands and striving to bring more nutritious foods to their tables.

So far, my experience with A Wider Circle has exceeded my expectations. I am happy with the amount of connections I am able to make from my class to the work I have been doing. It has been an eye-opening and powerful experience to work so closely with this community to help bring greater food and nutritional security to its residents. Through my work with A Wider Circle, I got to see first-hand the very real and serious issue of food insecurity that communities in D.C. and around the world face.


Sarah Elligott, DC Fair Food

My name’s Sarah Elligott and I’m an American University Junior who is focusing on sustainable development, however, I think the best way forward with that is through agricultural reform.  That being so I decided to add this extra credit to an International Food and Agriculture Policy course.  Being in the School of International Service, I was also drawn to the more humanitarian side of things even in agrarian practices.

Growing up in Northern California in a small agriculture town I was able to really see the connections or lack thereof between the different people that worked within the agricultural food chain from farm laborers to the massive monopsony’s that are controlling wages from the top down.  Even as demand increases at an exponential scale, farmers are pressured to keep prices the same, thus, they continue to try and find the cheapest way to manufacture goods or grow crops.

Out of this realization I began to work with a food justice focused organization called DC Fair Food.  The fair food program is focused on farm laborers rights, particularly based out of the tomato belt of the US, Florida.  It partners with the Coalition of Immokolee Workers to give farm laborers a better platform to ask for fair wages, report slavery conditions as well as sexual harassment.  The Fair Foods Standard Council is the main body of who tries to field this enforcement, but it is however a 501 3(c) so even though it’s a legally binding program, it’s often not enforceable due to its ambiguity.

For DC Fair Food I essentially helped them do table events such as Rooting DC as well as school symposiums, just trying to get the word out about our cause and how we can give farm laborers in the US a living wage.  Besides tabling and distributing information at events, I was also fortunate enough to have been able to present on a couple guest lectures; on to so bunch of Emory University Students and the other to some Georgetown Law school students and surrounding community members.  This is particular has really helped speaking in public for me as well.  Lastly, we went on a full-blown protest march in New York City on the head of the board for Wendy’s corporation, trying to get them to sign onto the Fair Food program like many other major corporations such as Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Giant, McDonald, etc.

I was honestly expecting to be doing more administrative work of the grassroots side of things; putting in email, going door to door, making phone calls, which I’ve had to do some of don’t get me wrong, but it was much more hands on volunteer work than I was expecting.  I got to engage with other intellectuals as well as present what I know being an (semi) expert in the areas of labor rights.  It definitely challenged me, particularly the Georgetown Panel because I think that was the most people I’ve ever spoken to in one room!  I was quite nervous, but it was really fun to overcome that and to be able to contribute to what I knew about the subject of farm workers’ rights.

This coincided with my course work well as the majority of it was about going over workers’ as well and land sovereignty and historical racism ingrained throughout our food chains.  In the Food and Agriculture policy course I took many of the injustices and human rights violations that were brought up while working for DC Fair Food.  This organization was a perfect fit for this class and the two really broadened my understandings of what goes on throughout every level of our food chain and that even if we decide to cut out animal products, we still have to be aware of where our food is really coming from.


Mark Kiwanuka, Iona Senior Services

Doing a CSLP was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. My name is Mark Kiwanuka and my major is public health. In the beginning, I had so many choices of places to volunteer. I like that CSLP can be applied to most volunteer programs in DC because this gave me the assurance that I will find the right place for me. After going to the volunteer fair and seeing the different organizations, the place where I volunteered at for my CSLP was IONA. IONA is a senior service program for local DC residents. IONA’s mission is to support people as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging. They have 2 sites in DC with one in Tenleytown and another one at the National Cathedral. The location I mostly volunteered at was the National Cathedral site. My expectations of what went on at IONA and what actually was done took me by surprise. I had the impression that IONA was simply a food drive for seniors in DC. I was wrong and IONA is much more than that. IONA focuses on many aspects important to senior life. IONA at the National Cathedral site starts the day with daily exercise for the seniors. After that, they serve a balanced and healthy lunch. Then, they have guests come in with programs or activities that they see as beneficial for their members. The guests and activities are different almost every day. From Medicare officers educating the seniors on the benefits of their services, to elementary school students coming in to interact with seniors to improve their mental health, IONA always makes sure its guests are there to help seniors.

The class I saw IONA as a perfect connection for was my health promotion program planning. In health program planning, we learn the importance of health programs and the effects it has on the community. IONA has a major focus on health. IONA is a program focuses on the well-being of seniors. It uses its balanced lunch, daily physical activity classes, and guest speakers and activities specifically geared towards the age group as a way to a improve senior’s life. One of the most important life lessons I have learned from doing this is that a little active listening can go a long way. For many of these seniors, society treats them as people who no longer have an active role to play in it. Not listening to people who are past their time and assuming they don’t understand how things work in the modern world. Volunteering with seniors has given me the chance to listen to many different fascinating life stories and really see the important role seniors have in society. Learning invaluable lessons from people who have been through all different types of situations. Most times when I’m at IONA I feel like the seniors there are helping me more than I ever could help them volunteering. I am glad I chose IONA as my CSLP site and wish to volunteer there in the future.


Elena Holceker, Martha’s Table

This semester at American University I had the opportunity to participate in the Community Service Learning Program. I attached the CLSP credit to my Economics class called the Global Majority. In this class, I have learned about poverty, agriculture, and sustainability and how these factors can affect a community. I was super grateful to be able to participate in a program like this because my passion is giving back to my community. Ever since moving to D.C. I have wanted to get out and participate in some sort of service.

I am currently volunteering at Martha’s Table, a non-profit organization located on 14th Street in Washington, D.C. At Martha’s Table, there are three main programs: food, education, and opportunity. They believe it is important for the people in their community to have access to healthy food, high-quality education, and family support. Through the programs offered at Martha’s Table, it is possible for children and families to have a brighter future. Each year the organization impacts around 20,000 people through all the different programs which is exceptional. The mission of the organization is to “build a better future through healthy food, quality education, and affordable clothing” which is stated on their website.

When I volunteer at Martha’s Table, I either help with dinner and dishes or baking. Both of these shifts are part of the food program. During the dinner and dishes, I help the chef with either washing dishes, preparing meals, or packaging sandwiches. Then at four o’clock, I serve dinner outside to the community. Everybody gets a cup of tea or water, one hot meal, four sandwiches, a piece of fruit, and some type of snack. For the baking shift, I assist the chef with baking muffins. Each batch can make up to one hundred and thirty muffins. Both of these shifts are rewarding and meaningful. I enjoy volunteering at Martha’s Table because of all the familiar faces I see every time I go to site. I especially see this when I serve dinner. For some of the people who come and collect a meal, the only interaction of the day is with the volunteers. It is so rewarding to see them smile when we hand them their meal and see how grateful they are.

I tried to not have any expectations when going to Martha’s Table for the first time. Before I went to volunteer for the first time, I imagined it to be like the other times I have served meals to the homeless, except it was different because at Martha’s Table I felt more connected to the community. Seeing familiar faces not only while serving people but also at the organization is what makes my experience different. My expectation has been met and I will continue to volunteer next semester at Martha’s Table because of the connections that I have made.

In the beginning, I was having difficulty connecting my volunteer work with my class. But as I kept volunteering and learning more in the Economics class I am able to make more connections. Martha’s Table strongly believes that with a good education and having access to healthy food options, children can have a brighter future. In my Econ class, we learned that many communities that don’t have access to education or food lack the resources to succeed in life. I have learned that we take for granted our education and our access to healthy foods.


Julia Snegg, Iona Senior Services

My name is Julia Snegg, I’m a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Public Health. I am currently volunteering with Iona Senior Services, located in Tenleytown, DC. I am connecting this volunteer experience with my Introduction to Health Promotion class.

Iona Senior Services is a nonprofit organization that supports the senior community in Washington, DC. They support seniors as they transition through the aging process with comprehensive and tailored services. Iona also addresses the needs of seniors who struggle with food insecurity and finding affordable housing. Additionally, Iona promotes positive aging through the arts. They offer hands-on workshops and art therapy to older adults to encourage free expression and engagement.

Iona primarily targets the U.S. Baby Boomer population with their services, which is the fastest growing age group in the country. One of the biggest challenges for older adults is finding employment later on in life. As of 2015, 24% of Baby Boomers had no retirement savings – almost 19 million people. Baby Boomers are not saving nearly enough to offset the disappearance of pensions. Additionally, 1 in 3 older adults is jobless for more than a year.

Older workers need professional help to improve their job search capabilities to connect with local employers. This is where Iona comes in. With their amazing services, workshops, and consulting services, Iona is helping older adults pursue job opportunities in order to provide them with the necessary tools to compete in the job market.

At Iona, I am working with the chair for the DC Coalition on Long Term Care to help her carry out her outreach to the elderly community. I’m helping her put together demographic information on the elderly DC population, in addition to updating content on the Iona website. Additionally, I am conducting research on current governmental policies that may impact senior citizens in the future. Lastly, I am helping out with any programming needs like their farm to table and art therapy programs.

My expectations were to help out an amazing organization while connecting with the DC elderly community. Over the course of this semester I have had the pleasure of working with an amazing staff and community of seniors. It has been such a great opportunity to witness the incredible work that Iona does first hand.

In my Health Promotion class, we’re learning about different strategies to successfully target underserved populations with public health interventions. We discuss different planning and prevention models to best approach our target population in order to elicit healthier behaviors from them. Iona Senior Services is a perfect example of a successful public health intervention that provides seniors with a plethora of services to help them age and live well.


Stephanie Lopez, Thrive DC

The savior complex is a problem. Psychological Today describes the savior complex as “a psychological construct which makes a person feel the need to save other people.” This thinking can be dangerous because it can lead someone to think they need to solve every problem they encounter whether it be a friend in trouble or a neighborhood concern. While a person may have good intentions, they may be more focused on the sense of obligation to do service than liking and learning from the service experience.

When I started participating in service projects I wanted to help communities that reminded me of my childhood. As first generation college student, I grew up in predominately low-income and minority neighborhood. When I began doing service projects at American University, I wanted to go to communities that I related to. I achieved this goal my freshman year when I participated in the Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) and tutored at CentroNía. The experience allowed me to tutor Latino students in Columbia Heights.

While I did have a meaningful service experience at CentroNía, I ended up staying in my comfort zone. I entered a familiar community, the Latino and immigrant community, and focused on relating my service to my experiences as a child. I constantly compared my past actions and how I could fit it in with the students. I wanted be an example of how a Latina could succeed and be educated. Thus, I ended up going to tutor because I felt that my presence was an example of success and would help the children. My savior complex and ego made it harder to have meaningful service. When I reflect back, I question whether I made a true connection with my students because my experience was focused on comparing our lives.

Therefore, when I decided to participate in CSLP again I wanted to enter a community where I that I was not familiar with. My goal was to go out of my comfort zone and gain knowledge about different communities in DC. I decided to work with Thrive DC. Thrive DC, is a nonprofit that works to prevent and end homelessness in Washington, DC by providing vulnerable people with a wide range of service to help stabilize their lives.

I decided to become a communications intern for Thrive using my federal work study. This experience would be different from my past services because I would not be working directly with the community. Instead, I would be helping the administrative staff advertise Thrive’s services and tell clients’ stories. Even though these tasks help alleviate stress on the staff it can be difficult to see it has rewarding when you do not see the progress every day.

People like to see progress especially when it comes to service. Something I’ve noticed since I volunteered as a child is that it helps see your work in action. For example, when I volunteered God’s Pantry, a food bank in Lexington, KY, it was hard to want to keep motivated because volunteers would just be sorting and packaging in a storage unit. The boxes of food would then be delivered to families across the city. As a volunteer, I knew my work was contributing to the overall mission of the organization but because I never saw a family receive food it hard to stay motivated. After this experience, I decided I wanted to only have hands-on and direct service experiences.

Thrive DC was the opposite of what I was looking for. I was nervous about how I would stay motivated when I would not see homeless clients benefiting from my efforts. My first days at Thrive were hard because I felt bored not walking around and talking to clients. Instead, I would be reading testimonials from staff and volunteers about their experience. Then, I would write social media posts about the positive services at the organization.

My writing and social media posts felt “fake” because I was advertising the positivity for my nonprofit without doing any of the work. Additionally, I had no connection with the clients to see how accurate the testimonials were. Not having this connection can cause people to stop volunteering or wanting to do work. Furthermore, I have had friends who stopped working for a nonprofit because they do not see their work bringing results. It is a sad reality but if people do not see results, they might feel like they are having no impact.

This is how I felt in the beginning of my service experience. I did not interact with clients and only knew their stories from reading other people’s testimonials. Additionally, I felt like I was staying in my comfort zone. However, as I continued doing work for the communications and developing team I began challenging my previous views.

Successful service is usually advertised as actions that have direct and hands-on approach with communities. However, that is not true. As I continued researching and alleviating stress from administrative I learned how community donors and other organizations used the research and social media posts I was doing to help Thrive. Every time I posted something online, I was helping Thrive stay relevant with the community and persuading others to volunteer or donate to help the organization.

The behind the scene service that I was doing helped me open my eyes and appreciate the hard work that goes into a nonprofit. Volunteers usually only see case workers and managers but there are so many people that are working on keeping a nonprofit funded and relevant to the city. It made me realize how my work is part of the overall system that helps Thrive and its clients. I didn’t need to have a direct connection with every client to help.

Additionally, I can learn more about the structure of Thrive and how many nonprofits work to help vulnerable communities. This reciprocal process helped me recognize the importance of learning when doing service. Having an open mind and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead you to learn about important topics and show the potential service can have for a community and yourself. My goal now when doing service, is to learn and be resourceful with the knowledge I gain.

My time at Thrive as taught me to focus on the needs of the nonprofit not my own. Moreover, it taught me to challenge myself and be resourceful. Service is not about staying in your comfort zone but stepping outside of it to make an impact. I hope I made a small impact even if it was just something small. Anything that helped alleviate stress and continue Thrive’s mission is a win for me.


Hannah Fuchs, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts

For the past semester, I have volunteered at the non-profit Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.  This institution focuses on easing the mental burden of their constituents through holistic healing programs.  The programs that Smith Center provides, whether they are art/yoga classes or support groups, are public health interventions that strive improve the mental health of the population.  Their target at-risk population are those diagnosed with cancer, but a diagnosis is not required to participate in classes.  Many of the programs that Smith Center provides focus on motivating their participants to take a more active role in their health.  My work at Smith Center has been a supplement to Intro to Health Promotion taught by Professor Gan.  In this course, we have learned a lot about the importance of self-efficacy – or how much an individual believes they can control their own health.  I have never seen this part of the health behavior models applied to mental health, so this volunteer experience has been amazing in that regard.

Much of my volunteering is focused on setting up for the knitting class on Wednesday afternoons.  I check who has RSVPed to the class, organize the program space by arranging chairs, and man the front desk when participants arrive.  Greeting these people is always a delight because they are so excited.  There are a handful of regulars who have forged a bond and a community over the years of attending this class, and, by the end of their time, I can see how happy they are.  From my time talking to them, Smith Center is an escape that lets them forget about hospitals and other worries—even if just for a little while.  This experience and having the opportunity to participate in this group myself has changed my expectations of what was expected of me.  I thought that most of my work would be filing paperwork and inputting the in-take and evaluation forms into the database.  I thought I would be in a cubicle puttering away while the real work went on around me.  Instead, I have been accepted into the community, and the ladies who come in have even started teaching me how to knit with them.  As a result, I have been challenged to step outside my social comfort zone and learn how to engage directly with people I am working to help.

Smith Center does not stop there, however. There is no fee for any of their programs. All classes are free to the public!  There is a suggested donation listed for each (ex: $20 to cover the ingredients of a cooking class), but often people do not have the means to contribute.  So, in order to remain operating, Smith Center is largely funded by outside grants and foundations.  Usually the process of finding such grants is out-sourced to a company that specializes in this practice, but Smith Center’s usual company no longer works on grants less than $10,000.  As a small non-profit, most of the funding for Smith comes from grants of $2,000 or less.  Thus, I have also been tasked to use online databases to find more funding opportunities for Smith Center.  This task was a surprise to me, and I have never done anything like it before, so there has been a learning curve.  I have had to reach out to my professors during office hours to ask for guidance.  I have had to take free online courses about how to match grants to organizations.  I have learned so much about how a non-profit stays afloat.  This task has allowed me to expand my knowledge of public health and health promotion because I have gained a better understanding of the business side of the equation.  As a public health major, I cannot wait to see how many other ways health promotion can be applied to the real world.

The Experience

Taylor Griffin, One World Education

It’s 7:30 p.m. The last time I ate was shortly after my first morning class, and the snow is starting to fall. At this point, I’m beginning to wish I was back home in my cozy dorm room, but regardless of the weather, this is the happiest I have been in a long time. After the bus has finally arrived, I find my seat and it occurs to me that I’ve found a new purpose.

I always wanted to volunteer in high school, but sports and clubs took up most of my time. So, I wanted college to be different; I wanted to finally do my part to help others. That’s partially why I chose American University to be my home for the next four years. Being in D.C., the students at AU have all kinds of opportunities to volunteer in communities. In my time here, I’ve also noticed that AU has a great connection with organizations in its area, and the staff continuously encourage students to apply what they learn in the classroom. Every student at American is required to take a Writing Seminar, usually in their freshman year, and each section is on a different topic. My current major is Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government, so the section on social justice seemed like a good fit for me.

Going into the class, I knew that it offered an optional extra credit for community service, but it didn’t interest me too much. Some students overload themselves their freshman year, and their grades suffer. I wanted to avoid that at all costs. But soon after reading the first few assignments for the class I decided that 40 hours wasn’t a huge commitment. In a way, I was correct. But I was also very wrong.

I started volunteering at One World Education, an organization whose scholarship program encourages middle and high school students to research and write on a topic that’s important to them, and I would hesitate to sign up again. While working with the students is not necessarily an academic challenge for me, it is emotionally difficult. So many of these students have personal experiences relating to their topics, and I constantly left the community center distraught over the conversations I would have with them. And what’s worse is that it’s not really my job to consult them about what they’re going through. Occasionally we’ll discuss what’s going on at school or they’ll tell me about what they did over the weekend, but my assigned job is to help them put together a speech- not feel sorry for them. I’ve learned that they don’t want me to sympathize; they just want to make a change so that their topic is no longer a societal problem. They want their voices to finally be heard.

I expected to teach these students how to write better and improve their public speaking. And while I made suggestions, they taught me about overcoming adversity and more importantly, not making assumptions about someone’s ability to succeed. Why wouldn’t they be just as capable as students who hadn’t gone through these trials? And what made me assume that they needed me? The only reason I was of any help was that I’ve been through a few more years of school. I’m good at grammar, and after my first few sessions, I started to ask myself what else I could contribute, if anything. I realized later that I wasn’t there for academics. I was there to listen, learn, and encourage because that’s what a mentor is for.

It’s normal to go into a volunteer opportunity hoping to change the world and help someone. But you really shouldn’t. I learned wasn’t going to fix the world, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. That’s one of the first points we went over in my social justice class, and at first, I was skeptical. Of course, I can make a difference. Nope. I learned my job is not to fix the world, it’s to listen and learn. Everyone wants to be heard, and if I’m volunteering, it’s my job to support people in whatever situation they are now.


Taylor McManus, Georgetown MedStar Pediatrics

My name is Taylor McManus, and I am a Public Health major. I am connecting my CSLP credit to Health Research Methods (PUBH-350), and the organization I am working with is Georgetown MedStar Pediatrics at Tenleytown.

The mission of MedStar hospital is constructed by the Jesuit principle cura personalis, which means “care of the whole person” and embodies the mission of all health care staff to comfort and care for not only the body, but also the mind. Respect, innovation, teamwork, and integrity are a few of the other beliefs that the MedStar organization believes in.

One social issue in particular I have experienced while working at this site is that of religious and personal beliefs. On multiple occasions, clinic staff has had issues with parents of patients not wanting to vaccinate their children for personal or religious reasons. Those who are educated in the medical field are aware of the dangers of not vaccinating children, but many parents are stubborn; however, many of the practicing physicians refuse service to parents who will not vaccinate their children. It is also difficult to turn patients away due to lack of insurance or payment for an appointment. The front desk staff makes their best effort to educate and inform patients on necessary documentation and the need for insurance.

The service site where I am currently working is short-staffed, so I have been given the same expectations as a full-time employee. Each time I work, I am either assigned to medical records or to the front desk. Medical records involve me working with school forms and scanning in documents to update patient profiles. I have been given access to the entirety of the patient portal and all documents, allowing me to get a deeper look into behind-the-scenes medical work and records. In the front, I am usually assigned to answering the nurse line; here, I provide the nurses with symptom summaries and patient concerns so that the nurses are able to easily respond and take necessary actions.

My expectations for this volunteer position were initially high; I have heard in the past that Georgetown MedStar Hospital volunteer positions are fairly difficult to come by. My onboarding process took well over three months and I was impressed at how detailed the orientation was. While many clinical volunteer positions encompass only paper filing, sorting, or menial tasks, I was confident that this site would provide me with more intellectually challenging activities to participate in. My expectations have been met. I feel as though I am being given difficult tasks (learning the online patient system and preforming medical scribe duties) while also helping out in other ways such as educating patients on the necessity of an online portal to communicate with physicians. I have been interested in patient care for my entire life, and this has allowed me to take a small step towards what I expect my future to look like.

The class I have connected to my site focuses extensively on methods used for health research. While there is no research being done currently, the class has allowed me to be more aware of patient condition and various distinctions between them such as socioeconomic status, race, and disease status. In this medical setting, I have become more educated and experienced on the kinds of issues that could be studied to further benefit the public health field, including what exposures lead to higher risk of childhood illness and what behaviors parents should follow to assure childhood health. Since I am working at a pediatric clinic, it is easiest to focus on and develop scenarios relating to the health of minors. I have not only learned lessons on the importance of detail and good communication in medicine, but how customer service can impact quality of medical care altogether. The front desk commonly faces issues regarding appointment scheduling, insurance and ID verification, and necessary forms. It is just as important as medical care to ensure that patients have a good experience outside of the doctor’s office regarding care and health maintenance.


Neda Ghias, Salem Gospel Ministries

When I registered for Health Promotion Program planning, I didn’t really know what I was going to learn in the class because I had never taken a health promotion class. As someone who personally loves volunteering and helping out other communities, I was excited to be able to work closely with the African American immigrant community of Salem Gospel Ministries.  The class gave us the opportunity to actually attend a Sunday service at Salem Gospel Ministries, which really helped understand the community, their needs, the general population (adults vs. children), cultural differences, and language barriers. All of the members were very friendly and inviting, and even had a personal English translator for our class members since they are mostly French speaking. The mission of Salem Gospel Ministries is to develop a community within these immigrants to help them become accustomed and integrated into the society. Church for them is a community that they can lean on for help with any problems they are experiencing, or even just a place to come and let go of the everyday hassles.

Within this community and the HPRM class, our goal was to understand how aware the community is about autism. Based on a survey my class developed and the responses from the church members, we noticed there was very little to no awareness about what autism is. We then developed a needs assessment to understand the needs of the community and ways to bring awareness. After developing a needs assessment my group members and I continued to make a lesson plan, workshops, brochures, and flyers to bring awareness. We then presented all the materials we gathered and created throughout the semester to my professor and the church leaders.

My expectations while working with this community was that they would have some basic understanding of what autism, that we would have a hard time developing a program plan that they can understand and actually take something away from, and lastly, I didn’t think they would be as interested or open to our class and all the different projects. But throughout the semester, I learned that there really is a lack of awareness and understanding about what autism is and what symptoms parents should be keeping their eyes open for throughout a child’s first years and also later in life. It is important for parents of children with autism to know that there are support groups that can help them cope with this and that they aren’t alone. It is never too late to start a child on medications for autism but it’s important to give proper resources and information to them.  Developing a program plan for the community members to actually learn from wasn’t too hard especially because we were able to go to Salem Gospel Ministries and understand really the community we were working with and the space we had to hold the workshops. Lastly, church members were really interested in our project, working with us, and helping in any way they could. They were all very friendly and actually interested on the different projects we were working on. Dr. Adrien was the pastor of the church and he was very informative and helpful with answering questions and being able to really make the Sunday church service enjoyable for everyone.

Some connections I made throughout the semester between my volunteer work and my health promotion program class were the importance of programs like these and how they can help these kinds of communities grow and learn about real-life problems. With all the different programs that were created by my classmates and I, we were really able to give a great overview of problems they seemed to not know too much about after reviewing the survey results. The lessons I learned while working with this community are the importance of understanding different levels of awareness, knowledge, and experience from immigrants. It is always important to consider these especially when creating lesson plans and needs assessment. I definitely would be interested in registering for another CSLP learning program to reach out to other communities that need the help.


Chelsia Melendez , Community of Hope

Community development through nonprofit growth can improve the quality of life for people in the community that have been historically marginalized. Community of Hope, a nonprofit based in southwest D.C., provides services for low-income families to have access to quality healthcare, housing and financial support. Community of Hope’s unique strategy including their preventive care, wraparound services, government and donor partnerships allows the organization to tackle chronic issues that affect the standard of living of the residents and family members in Ward 8 and 7. Nonprofits can bridge that gap caused by the lack of public and private sector solutions to the decline in affordable housing, access to hospitals and clinics in their area. Low-income families are the most vulnerable to the constant and recent changes in the healthcare, housing and education policies. Community of Hope provides these population with the support needed to navigate these policy changes and provides solutions while preventing further homelessness, joblessness and health issues with their business structure and strategy.

The Global Emerging Markets course is an international business course that seeks to address, highlight and find solutions that countries, governments and business face to investment, economic and business development. In the course, Global Emerging Markets, the first half of course focused on the issues emerging markets face in attracting and maintaining foreign direct investment and business development. The second half of the source focuses on the challenges individual businesses have in addressing the market, country and community demands to make their organization a successful company in the market they seek to operate in. Nonprofits can act in a complementary way where they provide services, products and support were government regulation, business services and country environment are lacking. For example, my in-class case study we learned that Singapore as the Central Provident Fund, which is a publicly managed mandatory savings program to provide all Singaporeans with social security. The program provides homeownership benefits, national healthcare, family insurance and the investment needs of the population by demanding a high savings rate from the nation. The Singaporean government provides a solution to affordable, accessible and quality housing and healthcare that many other countries lack. Indian and American governments lack the regulation and policies to provide affordable healthcare for the whole nation forcing many people to pay out of pocket, receive poor treatment and not have access to quality health care in general. In the case of the United States, government policies like Affordable Health Care, which aimed to provide universal health care, is slow to full implementation alongside changes in administration the future is uncertain. Nonprofit hospitals and clinics care directly address the health care needs of the community rather than just providing services their investors and shareholders deem as important. Community of Hope has three clinics throughout D.C one of them in Ward eight that provides behavioral health care, dental care, primary care and maternal-child care services to treat illness and health issues. In addition, Community of Hope also provides preventive care services like emotional wellness counseling, reproductive care coordinators and support groups that support low income population with the resources, information, mentorship and support. Community of Hope provides treatment and access to quality health care in areas of D.C. where reaching a primary hospital may be challenging. The main strategy that differentiates Community of Hope is their preventive care solutions to tackle problems like teen pregnancy, obesity and diabetes that affect low income communities more than higher income communities.

Community of Hope’s wrap-around strategy provides a holistic approach to problems that exacerbate each other. As a result, Community of Hope has housing services that provide housing for short periods of time, to transitional housing and permanent housing, all with preventive programs and financial freedom programs. Their unique housing program works to end homelessness through support such as employment specialist, child care programs and housing search support to transition homeless families to permanent housing. Community of Hope’s third strategy is partnering with other nonprofits such as Martha’s Table in 2018 with the shared mission to provide quality educational programs, healthy food and social services support. Government partnership’s also play a large role in increasing city and community development. Community of Hope partnered with Department of Health to launch a Healthy Start program that address toxic stressors for expecting parents and families with infants and young children through educating families on emotional development and support during and after pregnancy.

Community of Hope achieved scale because of their operational strategy but also their financial approach. Community of Hope, unlike most nonprofits, has a constant revenue stream from their clinics because of their patient fees. As a result, thirty-two percent of their revenue comes from clinics giving them flexibility and ability to reach nearly ten thousand patients a year and close to 3,000 people in their housing program. Their rapid growth is also attributed to change in leadership. Kelly McShane become CEO in 2001 and since then their budget as increased from 1.8 million to 16 million growing their impact to 6 times more families and low income individuals. Community of Hope has changed the way I thought about nonprofit impact on city and community development since they maintain scale along with providing quality solutions. Their ability to reach scale with good quality is due to their preventive care, wraparound services and donor partnership, along with their financial revenue approach. My work in the service cite is behind the scenes which allows me to see how the organization functions administratively and logistically. I attended meetings and helped coordinate their upcoming event, the Holiday Market, which is an event on December 9, 2017 that brings local business to sell and explain their services allowing the community to come together for the holidays while allowing local business to market their services and products. I also help organize more than $15,000 dollars’ worth of monetary gifts to the families and coordinate other volunteer involvement. It has been helpful to work in the development office because I can see how all of the services of the organization connects to their greater mission of improving the quality of life of low-income families.

I argue that the main connection to Kogod’s international business course is to include the role of nonprofits on a global and local scale in tackling healthcare and housing issues has a way to improve city and community development. Nonprofits can be impactful in countries that government regulation and policies are lacking in providing incentives for business and foreign direct investments. Improving quality of life in low income areas leads to city development which can increase business and investment in the community.



Paola Velez, The Latino Student Fund

Hello- my name is Paola Velez, I am an International Relations major and an International Business Minor. The class that I am connecting this CSLP credit to is my gateway course into SIS, which is International Development. The organization that I’ve had the pleasure volunteering with this semester is The Latino Student Fund at the National Cathedral site. The mission of the Latino Student Fund is to provide opportunities towards a strong academic foundation for underserved PreK through 12th grade students, mainly of Hispanic descent, along with their families in order to promote higher education and professional leadership. The Latino student fund offers these struggling, low-income families year-round out of school tutoring and educational programs for both the children and adults. The goal of this wonderful non-profit organization is to provide these at-risk students and their families with continuous increasing levels of educational achievement.

The social issues that The Latino Student Fund addresses is the alleviation of educational barriers for first generation students towards achieving and having access to higher education and providing the support to the families to be strong advocates for their kids. What I was doing at the service site was tutoring children on their school subjects like math, reading and writing. I was also helping most of the children with their language skills and development. My expectations of this program was that it was going to be an extremely disorganized organization (because it was a non-profit and that is typically the stereotype that goes along with them) and I also expected that the children were going to be challenging to work with. But I was proven wrong because this site turned out to be one of the most organized and beautiful sites ran by workers and volunteers who were devoted to the organizations mission of empowerment and helping their community.

The connections that I’ve made between my volunteer work and my International Development class are that first off, these students and their parents have migrated to the States directly from developing countries. Most of these families have migrated to the United States in hopes of a better life, futures, and opportunities. In International Development we learn that there is a learning crisis in developing countries where children are either poorly educated or denied an education altogether. I’ve always said that I am a strong believer in the fact that education is a fundamental human right that everyone has the right to receive. Therefore, some lessons that I’ve learned while working in the community is never to take my education and the opportunities I’ve received for granted—because there are people, like the ones who receive services from the Latino Student Funds who are not as fortunate as me and have to try ten times harder to prosper in the U.S. All in all, I’ve learned that education is the gate way out to overcome poverty and The Latino Student Fund works towards leveling out the playing field for students whom English is their second language and who encounter disparities in access to education.


Emily Sutherland, Horace Mann Elementary School

When I tell people I want to be a farmer but that I got to school in DC I get some strange looks. American University is the perfect fit for me, but still I find myself dreaming about the days where I lay down after a long day of working outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning. Sometimes, though, classroom lectures and studying get old. I would much prefer learning from experience in the ‘real world’ and moving while I’m doing it. The CSLP program enabled me to do just that. I gained valuable gardening experience while learning about how city children interact with the environment.

This semester, I spent forty hours working in the Horace Mann Elementary School’s “Mann Farm” where I managed twenty raised beds and got them ready for winter. I harvested, cleared, and covered beds, reorganized the equipment, and conducted some light carpentry repairing the beds. I also got to spend a few days working on the rooftop garden and learning about vertical farming towers. From both of these, the children eat fresh-grown salads served at lunch. The mission of Horace Mann is to “learn within and beyond [their] school walls” which I can attest they succeeded in. By providing a joyful learning environment, Horace Mann encourages students to reach their full potential.

Going into the semester, I was expecting to spend a lot of time with the kids and teaching them about how important healthy, fresh food is. However, I only spent two days with the kids, as this portion of the program was already full of volunteers and running smoothly. I was just as happy to do what was needed, which was garden. I went to work every day excited about the quiet time I would have tending to the raised beds and making visible improvements. I learned that I really appreciate tangible, immediate results, like harvesting the final tomatoes from a plant, clearing the bed, and covering it with weed cloth to prepare for winter. The work was hard, but fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

In my environmental health class, we spent some time learning about food systems and how the food we eat, and how that food is grown and processed, impacts our health. For example we learned, and I did independent research on, how food itself becoming less nutritious. Coupled with how risks to farmworkers from pesticide exposure, these two issues are direct health risks humans face as a result of food systems. Indirect problems tend to have more widespread effects, and these could include fertilizer runoff causing nutrient pollution in bodies of water. This runoff then harms aquatic populations and these contaminants can also enter our drinking water supply. No matter how you slice it, food plays a large role in human health. Mann Farm is pesticide free and uses natural fertilizers, minimizing their environmental impacts as much as possible. Around the school are rain gardens, an apiary, and compost bins to encourage environmentally friendly practices.

One key takeaway that I learned at Horace Mann is that children absorb pretty much all the information you throw at them. Third graders are more intelligent and capable than I gave them credit for, and they were eager to learn about and engage in gardening. These children will take the information they are learning about organic farming into their homes and hopefully throughout their future lives. Mann Farm’s coordinator, Amy Jagodnik, knows that kids are more likely to eat something that they helped make, and sure enough almost all of the kids at lunch took some salad that they had harvested less than an hour before. By educating the next generation of policy makers, farmers, educators, and doctors from a young age, I believe the health of the environment and humans are in much better hands.


Rachel Bernardo, Higher Achievement Program

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Recent research by the National Institute for Early Education Research has revealed that African-American and Hispanic/Latino children are generally 7-12 months behind in reading skills and 9-10 months behind in math skills when they enter kindergarten. During the transition from elementary to middle school, students from all socioeconomic groups typically show a decline in academic achievement. These gaps hold several economic, societal, and public health implications. The term “achievement gap” describes when one group of students performs better or worse than another group in terms of achievement. As such, opportunity and achievement gaps are inextricably connected.

The mission of Higher Achievement Program (HAP) is to close the opportunity gap during the critical middle school years. Higher Achievement provides a rigorous year-round learning environment which includes caring role models and high standard. At Higher Achievement, we call the middle school students “scholars,” since they are all driven to help bridge the opportunity gap in their communities. The after-school program provides scholars with homework help, mentoring, and high school placement advisors. The social issues they address in mentoring include the four social justice pillars: voice, freedom, justice, and solidarity. The scholar population has a demographic makeup of 80% African-American and 10% Latino children. Students in communities served by Higher Achievement are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than are their peers in more affluent communities. In contrast, 95 percent of Higher Achievement scholars who complete the program advance to top academic high schools.

When I arrive at Marie Reed Elementary School in Ward 1, I begin by assisting with study hall. I am placed in a room of about fifteen sixth graders and answer questions as needed. Then, I lead the scholars to the cafeteria where they are given dinner. After dinner, we begin a two-hour mentoring session. I am paired with the same two scholars each week, Roberto and Christian, and facilitate the lesson plan for the day. The lesson plans are pre-written plans that focus on the four social pillars. The lesson plans typically include an article highlighting an injustice that helps form a conversation and pave the way for an activity. For example, last week, in conclusion of the unit “Voice,” the scholars exercised their voice by writing a letter or a speech about a topic that they believe limits the opportunities and privileges of others.

Although my mentee group behaves most of the time, my expectations have been challenged in terms of my patience. Although I knew I would need to practice lots of patience, it has definitely been tested many times. During study hall, the scholars typically have trouble paying attention and staying focused. We try to help them stay focused, but recognize these scholars have already been in school all day and are very tired. Often times, behavioral issues may overshadow their many strengths, but each scholar has the potential to succeed given the resources and opportunities.

I have been able to make many connections between my volunteer work and my health promotion class. Through our coursework, I learned about the impact education has on health. Healthy People 2020 is a collaborative initiative of the United States Department of Health and Human Services which guides the national prevention agenda. Leading Health Indicators (LHIs) were selected by the initiative to communicate high-priority health issues and actions that can be taken to address them. Education was selected as one of the key LHIs of the social determinants of health. Those with more education tend to experience better health compared to those with less education. Therefore, efforts to address health should include making quality education widely accessible to all populations. The target for 2020 is to increase the percentage of students in public schools graduating with a high school diploma to 87%, which would be an 8% increase from 2010-2011.

I learned many things while working for this organization, including the severe education inequalities in DC. Higher Achievement Program helped me understand the need for programs like these in the communities it serves. Although more work has to be done, especially at a larger scale, these programs are extremely beneficial in closing the achievement gap. I had no idea this program would transform me both personally and academically, sparking my interest to continue to fight for social injustices.


Jendelly Veloz, Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc.

Being raised first-generation American by parents who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and knew absolutely nothing about the United States, except that achieving the “American Dream” was extremely interesting, contrary to popular belief. My parents fled from the Dominican Republic in their late 20’s, in hopes of finding better job opportunities, less delinquency, the ability to voice their opinions, and overall, a stable and secure lifestyle. Growing up, my brothers and I were taught two things: 1) Always Stand For What You Believe in and 2) Be The Change You Wish To See in the World.

While attending American University, I combined my interests in Justice, Law, and Criminology with my burning desire to implement change on some integral level, but first, I needed to understand the underworks of it. AU’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) allowed me to do just that by volunteering at Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc. (YLOT), an organization that provides adolescent girls, who have, or may potentially, come in contact with the juvenile justice system. Through trauma-informed programming, YLOT fosters preventive and rehabilitative services to help its girls successfully transition into womanhood by increasing their self-awareness and developing their mental and emotional state. The non-profit organization focuses on the following five core elements: 1) ‘Encourage Teamwork’ by facilitating productive dialogue and allowing girls to communicate effectively and work collaboratively, 2) ‘Create New Opportunities’ by exposing the girls to various events, trainings, and workshops with many hands-on experiences and challenges, 3) ‘Celebrate Accomplishments’ to empower young ladies to recognize their hard work, 4) ‘Volunteer’ to teach the young ladies to give back to their local community, and 5) ‘Have Fun and Stay Engaged’ by striving to create a safe haven for the girls, where they feel comfortable being themselves and wanting to participate in interactive programs at all times. These elements allow for volunteers and mentors, like myself, at Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc. to stay on track when mentoring the young ladies.

As part of AU’s CSLP, I was able to work 50+ hours throughout the semester, alongside YLOT’s CEO, Helen Wade. Being exposed to all aspects of the justice system and shadowing probation officers at the Superior Court truly allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in classes throughout my three years at AU to the real situations outside the classroom. I became extremely engaged in the African-American Community, and was surprised to learn about the limited resources provided to us, minorities, particularly the black people. It was definitely an eye-opener, working for Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc., as it provided tremendous insight on what causes crime in impoverished communities, such as the ones these young ladies find themselves in. CSLP has definitely expanded my knowledge in ‘Cities and Crime’ and has reaffirmed what my parents taught me: change starts with you, and volunteering could truly allow you to implement the change you wish to see in the world.


Kacie Sampson, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School

My name is Kacie Sampson, I am a sophomore at American University, and I am applying my CSLP credit to my Intro to International Development, SISU 240 class. For my volunteer assignment, I have been serving at the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, which is affiliated with the larger school, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, also based in DC.

The mission of the Carlos Rosario School, as stated on the website is “To provide education that prepares the diverse adult immigrant population of Washington, DC to become invested, productive citizens and members of American society who give back to family and community.” Simply stated, the goal of both the Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus is to equip immigrants and marginalized members of the community with skills that not only enable personal growth, but also increase competitiveness in job seeking. The common theme of “rugged individualism” in pursuit of the “American Dream” leads to some people falling by the wayside, without much regard from those who are still competing in the race. However, while running so far ahead, many fail to recognize that not everyone has the same starting point. The Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus seek to level out the playing field and address this often institutionalized social inequality among minorities and immigrants. By providing career classes such as nursing and culinary arts, as well as skills courses in ESL and computer literacy, Carlos Rosario and Sonia Gutierrez offer marginalized members of society resources that many Americans take for granted.

I serve as a teaching assistant in a computer literacy class of about fourteen adult students. While the teacher instructs the class on the various applications featured on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, it is my duty to make sure that none of the students are falling behind and to answer any questions they may have. While my role seems relatively simple, it becomes complicated when one considers that: 1. The members of the class are only part-time students, meaning that they usually work full-time jobs and do not have time to study the material thoroughly; 2. The students come from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of exposure to technology before coming to the Campus; 3. Of the fourteen members, only one student speaks English as their first language, so many students are still developing their English language skills.

Coming into this experience, I was happy to be serving at the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, yet I was struggling to see how my answering a question on formatting a Word document might somehow make a positive impact on these students that I so eagerly wanted to help. Now that my service is coming to a close; however, I see that the value of my CSLP experience did not lie in what I could give to the class, but what the class could give to me. The class inspired me with their dedication to learn despite the obstacles. In the absence of many resources even I receive by going to this University, the students pressed on, relying on their work ethic and dedication, when others would have given up long ago. Another challenge this experience presented me was working within a multicultural environment. As an SIS, student, with Cross Cultural Communications under my belt, I felt that I was already pretty well prepared to work within a diverse setting. The Campus, however, presented me with new challenges as I began to understand what each of the students needed in the learning process. Some were too proud to ask for help, others needed things to be read or defined more than once, the class almost never started on time, among other things. Contrary to the DC way of fast-paced and efficient, in the class I learned the value of taking my time and making sure each student fully understood a concept before we moved on.

My service connects with my International Development class on multiple levels. To begin, the class is multicultural, which applies to the SIS emphasis on working in diverse settings; but further, the class comes from different economic backgrounds, which one may argue has an impact that is equivalent with culture on identity formation. In SISU 240, we have challenged the concept of GDP as a metric for development, stressing human development and equal access to resources as a more accurate measure of well-being. Carlos Rosario demonstrates this reality in offering those who are frequently forgotten by the market an opportunity to become more productive. This practice demonstrates that, when given the chance, individuals will become more productive, despite their socioeconomic odds. Further, my service reflects what we have learned in class in stressing the importance of education on development, as education is often one of the preliminary steps towards a more efficient, but more importantly, inclusive society.

In summation, I would like to thank CSLP, the Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, as well as Professor Dixon for giving me this opportunity to serve my community (even if in a small way) and grow personally. My passion lies in serving individuals who are often left with few alternatives. I hope that, as more people gain exposure to community involvement, we can create a society that works for all of its members.


Julia Remy, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

When I was 15, I got my first job as a lifeguard at the local YMCA. Since then I’ve worked five different jobs ranging from babysitting to swim instructor to research assistant. Despite the vast differences in work environments I have never thought about workplace violence. This is an undeniable example of the level of privilege that I’m accustomed to, as I have never faced an incident of workplace violence such as wage theft, physical or verbal abuse. Many are not as lucky, especially those that are the sole-providers for their families, aren’t native English speakers or are undocumented. Throughout my time in the Health Promotion Program Planning course I was able to work with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab (AIHPL) to learn more about the impact of workplace violence on the African immigrant community throughout  he D.C. area.

AIPHL is a group of community leaders that aim to raise awareness of health issues impacting members of the African immigrant community. Some of their priority areas include increasing access to nutritious food, raising awareness of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and prevention of domestic and workplace violence. The community I worked with was a group of people from Francophone nations within Africa with a high concentration of Congolese and Senegalese people. As religion is a major aspect of this culture the lab does most of it work from a church in Silver Springs, MD. One Sunday morning, a group of students and I visited the church for their Sunday morning prayers, little did we know that this three-hour service was done entirely in French! As my family is French, I was able to understand and translate a good amount of the service, but three hours of religion in French was a lot! After the service, we asked the congregation to fill out a survey regarding their health behaviors including the impact of workplace violence. I was also able to speak, in broken French, to some of the members to learn more about their lives and their work environments.

I went to the church with the expectation that these people wouldn’t want to share highly personal information such as their work history or domestic violence stories. To the contrary of my expectations, they were extremely welcoming (I even got a job offer to work at refugee camp in Congo!) and willing to help us with our project but were more eager to help their community.

To be honest I was a little confused when assigned to focus on workplace violence as it was an issue I knew little about and therefor assumed was rare or non-existent. Unfortunately, I was wrong as a majority of the congregation had experienced some form of workplace violence.

I tried to combat this by creating a series of workshops focusing on the education and prevention of workplace violence while paying attention to the unique needs of this community. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing very little to impact this vast and vibrant community, but am truly hopeful that the members will be able to recognize and report the multifaceted issue of workplace violence. In summation, this experience not only reaffirmed the privileges I have, but taught me a lot about a community I would have never interacted with if it wasn’t for American University.


Fiona Geier, Gospel Salem Ministry Church

While taking my Health Promotion Program Planning class with Professor Free, I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to get involved with the center for community engagement and service. I have always had an interest in community service, and I was excited to find out that I would be able to create a health promotion program for a community center in need. Last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Martha’s Table on 14th Street for my Issues in Women’s Health class. For this class, my group’s program was created to teach prevention and treatment for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer for the Gospel Salem Ministry Church in Silver Spring Maryland. This church is multi-functional and serves as a community center because it houses not only multiple different church services, but is also home to a daycare, school, and karate center.

It was a great experience to create surveys, collect data and establish a program to further inform the members of this community about cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. This program was created to mainly focus on the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, but to also teach ways on how to treat these diseases. The reason why my group chose to focus more on the prevention of these diseases rather than the treatment is because these community members where primarily from Africa and from the survey, we gathered that they had little to no knowledge on these diseases.

The program we created will take three weeks to complete and will take place on Sundays after the church service. Each Sunday will be focus on a different disease, and once the church service is over, there will be an introductory presentation and a group activity to enhance the knowledge of the diseases. Many of the members of this community are not accustomed to the American culture, and my group thought it would be a good idea to create activities that could enlighten them on the American health culture.

After creating this program and almost completing this class, I have a much greater appreciation for health promotion program planners. It takes a lot of time and effort when it comes to finding a target audience, picking a topic in which they need help learning about, and creating a program to benefit them. I have learned that many theories, models and marketing tactics that are incorporated into creating health promotion programs. When originally taking this class, I had no idea how in-depth health promotion programs had to be. Overall, I had a great experience creating this program for the Salem Gospel Ministry Church. Taking this class has given me a glimpse of what I could be doing once I graduate. I now have a greater appreciation and I am even more excited to start my career after college. It has been such a pleasure volunteering for the Salem Gospel Ministry Church and finding ways to further enhance the knowledge on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.


Carly Perry, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

I am often asked what it is like to be a D1 student-athlete at American University. My honest answer is that college soccer is (1) time consuming (2) incredibly exhausting (physically and mentally) and (3) emotionally draining. But, in the end, playing college soccer is 100% worth it. When I committed to play Division-One soccer, I knew that activities I loved in High School- student government and volunteering- my not fit into my college schedule. Unfortunately, I was right. I am a senior this year and I have spent nowhere near the amount of time that I wanted to spend volunteering in the community and on campus.  So, when I heard about the CSLP (community service learning project) program that American University offers, I applied right away. This program is exactly what I needed this semester: a way for me to feel connected to the community and a structured program that kept me on track and organized.

Last spring, when I signed up for the Health Promotion Program Planning course with Professor Free, I did not realize that this class would work great for the CSLP credit. The purpose of this course is to learn how to create health programs for specific communities. So, the entire semester my group has worked hard to create a nutrition program plan for the community members of Montgomery Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. It has been a very cool experience to work Montgomery Baptist Church as our community partner because the church community is very diverse. Many of the members are from different countries in Africa and they greatly vary in their health needs, socio-economic status and education level. With this in-mind, my group worked hard to create a nutrition program that would appeal to majority of the members; it is called ‘Four weeks 4 Change.’

In order for my group members and I to create the nutrition plan for Montgomery Baptist Church, we went through a lot of different steps. To create this plan, we surveyed the community members, conducted research on past programs, drafted proposals and developed weekly lesson plans. Each week we met to work on our project and some weeks we received positive feedback and other weeks we were instructed to fix part of our plan. Professor Free challenged my group and we learned a lot from her feedback and her questions about our plan.  I expected to be challenged by Professor Free but I did not expect to face challenges with my group members. I did not always feel that the work was equally divided amongst us and I took on a lot of the work. But, in the end, I learned how to communicate effectively with both group members so that all of the work was done on time and done well.

I absolutely recommend any student at American University to engage in the CSLP one credit program if they are given the opportunity. The students at American University are lucky to have CSLP because those in charge are so organized, incredibly helpful and student-friendly. Personally, this has been different than any volunteer work I have done in the past.  In the past, a lot of the volunteer work I did were “one-time” events like delivering food on thanksgiving or packing shoeboxes at Christmas time. This project was an entire semester long, 40+ hours. At the beginning, I was a little concerned about how many hours I had to put into the project, but creating the nutrition program plan has been so much more fulfilling and I have learned so much more than past volunteer experiences. If I were not graduating this spring, I would engage in another community service project through the CSLP at American University.


Anisa Shafiq, Marie Reed Elementary

Hi! My name is Anisa – I’m a fifth year at American University majoring in Sociology with a personal focus and interest in education. This semester I’m mentoring at Marie Reed Elementary with American University’s D.C. Reads and the Higher Achievement Program. This entails being a mentor to a small group of 6th grade students once a week on Tuesdays after school hours. During program, my group along with all the other mentors and their groups, meet for community meeting, where we do a fun activity or two to start the day off right. After that, we meet for about an hour in our small groups. During this time my co-mentor and I spend most of our time teaching a Higher Achievement provided math curriculum to our four students. Sometimes, splitting off into two small groups is required due to our scholars’ achievement levels, and sometimes one-on-one mentoring is required. After this hour is over, all of the groups get together once again to recap the evening and have Higher Achievement deliver some announcements.

This is my second semester doing service with CSLP, and the second program I’ve worked with. My first semester, I served with KidPower. It was a very different experience than working with HAP, and at first, I was very overwhelmed at the amount of structure and guidance I seemed to be getting. I attended hours and hours of orientations and was handed a bunch of packets with tons of instructions, and this was not at all how KidPower was being run. The format of everything was so different than what I had been previously exposed to. I was very nervous at first. But as the weeks went on, I realized that it was the same basic principle – being there for these students that counted on seeing me once a week, whether that was teaching them how to do decimal division or playing a game with them. It was still being a mentor. KidPower taught me SO much – it’s the foundation that I have in regards to working with younger students. Being a mentor with HAP has allowed me to continue to do so, on a smaller scale.


George Marschall, Capital Area Food Bank & Martha’s Table

Food aid is a common theme within the international development community. Ideas circulate within “developed nations” that high income countries don’t face issues of food insecurity or food waste. In studies of international food aid, students consistently learn about “Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods” like Plumpy’nut or BP-5, Therapeutic Feeding Centers and Supplementary Feeding Programs. These concepts create a conceptual schism between our understanding of global hunger and local hunger. As a result, it becomes difficult to understand that food insecurity does not exclusively affect nations that suffer from famines and droughts. A year ago, I was fortunate enough to take my Global Hunger class with Professor Carruth who drew comparisons between domestic and international food insecurity. What I learned forced me to confront my preconceptions of food insecurity, something that has pushed me to dedicate my time to two distinct organizations with Washington, DC that are dedicated to eradicating this problem: the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) and Martha’s Table.

Responding to the imminent cutbacks to the Food Stamp Program in Washington, DC, the United Planning Organization and Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington banded together in 1980 to create the Capital Area Food Bank. The food bank is dedicated to a mission of creating access to healthy foods for all communities in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. It is the largest organization within the metro area that works to solve hunger and the various problems that come with it, notably heart disease, chronic undernutrition and diabetes. This organization depends not only on food donations from people, corporations and farms throughout the region but also volunteers who help by sorting the various donations for the communities in need. The tasks assigned to the volunteer vary greatly every week from sorting good and bad apples, categorizing foods to creating lunch bags for students and senior citizens.

Martha’s Table was founded on the principle of ensuring that children within Washington, DC are safe and have access to healthy food. Established in 1979, the founders, Dr. Veronica Maz and Father Horace B. McKenna were concerned that the 14th Street Corridor was a particularly dangerous area that children in the region needed protection from. As a result, their creation, Martha’s Table, gave students a place to go and eat after school. The expansion of the organization has been dramatic to say the least. While Martha’s Table continues to carry out its original mission of protecting children, it now dedicates itself to protecting adults and their access to safe food as well. While volunteering with this organization I worked in their food truck, which delivers food to at-risk communities within DC.

While many students who choose to take the Community Service Learning Program work with one distinct organization, I feel that working at both locations has expanded my understanding of the various efforts within Washington, DC to protect people’s access to safe and nutritional foods. Among the most interesting things I witnessed at both organizations is their completely different approach to mitigating the problem of hunger. The CAFB is primarily dedicated to redirecting food within the district. The Food Bank prevents products from being thrown in the trash and brought to the landfill, by storing them at their facility and delivering them to other organizations that bring them to community members in need. Martha’s Table is one of these very organizations that benefits from the Food Bank’s efforts.

My position at these non-profits has me working on almost every part of the food security project. I sorted and condensed the food within the Food Bank to deliver to the same organization that I helped with handing out meals to the homeless. This unique experience was baffling in the capacity that the Food Bank itself seems so distantly removed from the people suffering from Hunger but is incredibly key to the process of preventing that hunger. Martha’s Table, while magnificent in its own right, depends on the work of the volunteers at CAFB for the dissemination of food. Without Martha’s Table and organizations like it, the Food Bank would be unable to disperse donated food to the community. Washington, DC has a well-oiled machine of food security non-profits. While the amount of people suffering from food insecurity in DC is staggering, my work at these organizations has made it clear that effort is everywhere. I am grateful for all that I have been able to witness this past semester and hope that I have made an impact on the lives of some members of the community affected by hunger.


Emma Goetzinger, Green America

My name is Emma Goetzinger, and I am a sophomore. I am planning to declare a major in public health following the B.S. track and a minor in biology. I am connecting my CSLP credit to my environmental health class, and I am working with Green America. As soon as I saw that Green America was on the list of organizations that students frequently work with as part of the CSLP program and read the description, I knew that it was going to be an organization that I would be interested in. The mission of Green America is to work with the economic power and influence of consumers, investors, business, and the marketplace in order to create a just environmentally sustainable society. Green America works towards making sure that everyone in the world has access to adequate resources and has the ability to live in an environment that is healthy, clean and safe, as well as ensuring that Earth’s resources will be preserved for generations to come.

Green America’s work is focused on six main areas, which include climate, food, finance, labor, social justice and green living. Since food sustainability and access to safe and healthy food are both environmental health issues that I am interested in and that we have discussed in class, I chose to do work relating to the food area. Within the area of food, Green America concentrates on GMOs, the overuse of fertilizers and other chemicals, and the encouragement of sustainable agriculture. For example, Green America has conducted extensive research regarding multiple concerns with GMOs such as the lack of proper regulation and the development of “superweeds” and pests that are resistant to chemicals. I recently completed my first project while working with Green America, which was to create a milk map. The purpose of this milk map was to encourage Starbucks to begin offering organic milk by showing all of the other coffee chains and independent coffee shops across the country that already do so. First, I collected data and information about which coffee shops in areas around the country currently offer organic milk. Then, I organized the information into an online directory and created the actual map showing where all of the coffee shops are located. This took a while to finish, since I had to contact many of the coffee shops individually to ask them about what milk they offered.

Working with Green America has been an extremely positive and enriching experience, and I am looking forward to receiving instructions about my next project later this week. It has been a great way to get more involved in my community as well as the environmental movement, and through my work I’ve realized just how interested in environmental health I am. Many of the areas that Green America focuses on, such as climate change, food and green living are also focuses of the environmental health field.  Volunteering with an organization that researches and investigates many of the same things that I have been learning about in class has really deepened my understanding of the subject of environmental health. I feel as though the work that I’ve been doing is actually meaningful, as the health of our environment impacts us all. This makes me excited to continue working with Green America, even after the CSLP program has ended. Through this experience, I’ve definitely grown more comfortable reaching out to new people, as that was something I had to do to get this opportunity to begin with and while collecting information to use in my map. This will be an important skill that I will be able to continue to use throughout college and beyond.


Mary Ney, African Immigration Health Promotion Lab

As a public health major, in-class lectures offer plans and theories and models just waiting to be used in the real world.  You hear success stories and stories of failure, what to do and what not to do, but you never get to just do it. However, this semester I have the opportunity to just do it through Health Promotion Program Planning class in partnership with the African American Health Promotion Lab. This class allows for real world applications of concepts learned in the classroom, which enhances the overall learning experience.

Through this community partnership, we are tasked with assessing the needs of the Salem Ministries church community in order to develop a program targeting a specific issue. The African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab is committed to educating and improving the health of immigrants from the African diaspora. They specifically address health disparities within this community. My task in partnership with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab is to address issues in child nutrition and food access, and to create a program that will improve diet choices among this population.

At the service site, my classmates and I conducted a needs assessment of the community through observations and surveys, and based our plans off this information, as well as outside research. Initially, I thought this would be a simple task—find out what a population needs and make plans to provide that. However, this task has proven to be increasingly difficult because of all the moving parts. Not only are planning logistics often difficult to coordinate, but this program also has the potential to affect the lives of people whom we have met and those we have not. Working on a real project for a community partner has been incredibly rewarding, because of this potential.

This project is particularly important to me because I work for a child nutrition program in DC area schools. This experience, as well as the concepts learned in Health Promotion Program Planning and other public health classes, have enhanced my love for health and healthy eating, and provided a tangible option to work with an issue I am passionate about.


Kaitlyn McTernan, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care.”  Preventative measures in health care can substantially decrease both the risk and likelihood of acquiring diseases, ones that are harmful and can potentially lead to death.  In HPRM-335: Health Promotion Program Planning, we learn the appropriate ways in which to develop, implement and evaluate health promotion programs.  There is a particular emphasis on health and lifestyle risk factors and interventions.  I have been able to use and implement a variety of these strategies this course has taught me in my own service work, to name a few: needs assessment, goals and objective writing and implementing appropriate preventative measures.

In working with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab (AIHPL), I have been completing my service work with Salem Gospel Ministry Church in Silver Spring Maryland.  The mission of AIHPL is promoting health through systematic research and evidence based community health promotion.  One of this organization’s main goals is promoting health behaviors among immigrants of African descent.  They go about achieving this goal by reaching out to immigrants of African descent to conduct various screenings, tests and health education programs.  Another goal of AIHPL is influencing health promotion paradigms and models among this population.  The models that they use are culturally competent and take into consideration social determinants of health in regards to current issues faced by immigrants. One of the main platforms of communication that they use are faith-based communities to achieve their overall program goals, which is why I have decided to volunteer with the Salem Gospel Ministry Church.  This church community is comprised of immigrants from Africa, with many of them being from Congo.  Among this population, there are high percentages of members with cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.  These numbers could be alleviated if awareness of these diseases increases and if more preventative measures are provided to the church’s congregation.

While volunteering at the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab, I have been working on writing and implementing a health promotion plan that addresses ways to decrease the presence of cardiovascular disease, various strains of cancer and diabetes in innovative ways that are both culturally competent and effective.  The first stride I took to achieve this goal was writing and conducting a needs assessment to determine the needs or “gaps” between current conditions and desired conditions or wants of the target population, in this case the immigrants of the African diaspora at Salem Gospel Ministry.  I analyzed the information that I obtained from this assessment to formulate a detailed program plan that addresses, educates and implements preventative measures for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes with a goal of decreasing the severity of or number of members who have these diseases.  My program consists of a three-day workshop, with one day being dedicated to each of the three diseases.  Each day of the program has an educational component followed by an activity that reinforces what they have learned, which addresses the varying learning styles present in the community and allows all members to learn.  Additionally, after the conclusion of each day, preventative services, such as blood pressure tests, cholesterol screenings and many others will be offered to the members.

When first deciding to undertake this task, I was unsure of what to expect but was filled with excitement, as I knew it was a great opportunity to gain experience in a career path that I am considering pursuing in my future endeavors.  I expected to be confronted with the obstacle of overcoming the language barrier between myself, who only speaks English, and the members of this church who primarily speak French.  However, this was a hurdle that was easily jumped over as they have a translator present during all services and church related functions.  Additionally, this population is extremely welcoming to others who come from very different backgrounds than themselves. This experience was an extremely rewarding one that I have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience from.  Through working with this community, I have learned that education and prevention are key components in deterring the presence of diseases.  Overall, this program has solidified Ben Franklin’s wise words that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound, if not more, of care.


Hannah Jacks, The Family Place

As a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Spanish and Public Administration & Policy, my interests lie heavily in the crossover between politics and community work. Fortunately, I was able to connect my two interests through the CSLP program, by linking my community work to my Spanish class, SPAN-456: Latin American Chronicles. In my Spanish class, we have covered various topics through analyzing works from Latin American politicians, revolutionaries, and authors. This has provided me great insight into the history of Latin American government and culture, both ancient and recent, and has truly enriched my experience volunteering as an Assistant ESL Instructor at The Family Place DC.

The Family Place is a nonprofit organization serving the immigrant community in Washington, DC. The organization strives to “empower low-income families and to foster the optimal development of their young children through educational and support services.” In other words, they wish to help as many as they can by offering classes and services through a variety of programs, including Family Literacy, Family Wellness, and Family Stability. The most popular classes offered at The Family Place are English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, in which they offer both beginner and intermediate levels. Other classes include Parenting, Spanish Literacy, and Nutrition classes. An overwhelming majority of students at The Family Place are Spanish-speaking Latino immigrants, and their ages range from 18 to 70 years old. The organization is very true to its name, in that students tend to be so comfortable coming to class every day and enjoying lunch and gossiping with each other that it almost feels like family. The nonprofit does a fantastic job at making all students feel comfortable and ready to learn by offering a free lunch for students and always offering help in any way possible. In fact, many students have so much fun in the English classes that it’s hard to believe they are learning so much.

At The Family Place, I assume the role of an Assistant ESL Instructor. Every Wednesday, I assist in the beginner English classes by working directly with students and leading some lessons on grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. My expectations for my service-learning experience at The Family Place were pretty clear: I expected to help by giving a lot of individualized attention to students and doing what the instructor asked of me. As a matter of fact, my position has changed a great deal since I first began. I have assumed a more central role in the English classes, instructing the class as a whole and leading the class more than I expected. Rather than simply doing what the instructor asks of me, I often use my own knowledge and perception to realize what the class needs, and act independently. The ESL instructor seems to be very thankful that I have experience teaching English and can help in a more substantial way than simply making copies. Taking on this more central role has been both difficult and rewarding. While I hadn’t originally noticed it, the number of different English levels among students in the class is huge. It is often extremely frustrating to repeat a lesson numerous times to a part of the class that is at a lower level, while the other students understand the lesson the first time it is taught. However, it is very important to make sure that all students learn – not just the more advanced students. Therefore, it becomes really rewarding once all the students master a subject. Many students have been taking the beginner classes for years, and have still not advanced to the intermediate class, so it is an unspoken rule to work extra hard to make sure these students feel like they are working this hard for a reason.

While working at The Family Place, I have certainly learned many lessons. One such lesson, which I learned both at The Family Place and in SPAN-456, is to never generalize a community. Although the nonprofit helps immigrants, it is important to recognize that the immigrant community is not homogeneous. Every person comes from a different background, community, and family. It is also extremely important to be welcoming, open, and consistent when working at The Family Place, and at any community-based organization. It is imperative to gain the trust of the individuals you intend to help, and to do this, one must become a part of the community rather than remain an outsider looking in. This being said, one must consistently show up to volunteer and show a sense of vulnerability in order to be seen as equals by the students.

By taking on the role of Assistant ESL Instructor at The Family Place, I have learned a great deal about the individuals I work with, and also about the importance of community-based work. I feel like I have escaped a bubble that I’ve been living in at American University, and had real-life experience working with people who are very different than me. Above all, I’ve had a great time learning about the community and playing a valuable part in the everyday lives of the students.



Jenna Green, National Presbyterian School

My name is Jenna, and I am a public health major. This semester my friend told me about the National Presbyterian School and the after school programs there, and I immediately found interest in working there. Fortunately, a seat in Dr. Enchautegui’s adolescent Psychology class opened up, and after reading about CSLP, I wanted to try combining my work at the school with my psychology class.

The National Presbyterian School is located on Nebraska Avenue between American University’s campus and Tenleytown. The school’s mission is to provide a high quality education with a focus on Christian ideals. Their core values are love, respect, honesty, responsibility, and safety. The school has a strong focus on Christian values, but I do not identify with any particular; however, I since beginning my work at the school I have begun to think about and honor these values more in my everyday life.

Within the school, I work with the After 3 Club program. This program provides supervision and education opportunities for students whose parents are unable to pick them up at the end of the typical school day. The program provides tutoring, classes, and time for kids to play. I believe this program is really important because many parents are unable to leave work at 2 in order to take their kids home. I think that this in particular really addresses socioeconomic differences. In order for parents to be waiting at the school by 3 to pick up their children, at least one parent has to have a job flexible enough to leave work early every day or stay home. This is unrealistic for most families due to financial constraints, so it is important that these children are not left to their own devices after school lets out.

My average day includes planning programming for the students, helping with homework, making sure they have snacks/ are being fed, and playing with them until they’re picked up by a parent. I really like this site because I have the opportunity to work with children/adolescents ages 3 to 13. I go three days a week, and something that I really enjoy about the time I spend at NPS is watching each child develop. These developments include anything from kids recognizing their own names to mastering multiplication. It’s really rewarding, and the students are all fun to get to know. What I was not expecting was how challenging it is to balance the school’s values with the individual student’s values. By this I mean: the school and program try to foster an atmosphere that supports the values I listed earlier, but not all the families necessarily respect or follow these values. Because of this, sometimes it is difficult to have discussions with parents and discuss how we’re noticing these moral conflicts in their children.

My adolescent psychology class focuses a lot more on the older children. During the days I am at the school, I can reflect on what I have learned in class when I see them transitioning into adolescents both psychologically and physiologically. I met with Dr. Enchautegui the other day and shared some of my experiences with her, and it was really fun to discuss what I’ve been observing with someone else. It also makes my class a lot more interesting and meaningful because I am able to connect so much of what we learn in class to real life experiences that I have witnessed. Working with the school not only supplemented my class, but it provided me with more interest and a desire to learn more about child and adolescent development.


Lee Sandler, Baptist Church of Salem Gospel Ministries

I am Lee Sandler, I am twenty-two years old, and I am from the city of sunny Tel Aviv. I am a Junior at American University and I am studying Public Health and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. Being a woman from Israel automatically means that I must serve in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) for two years, men, on the other hand, serve for three. When most people at AU hear that I was in the army, they immediately assume that I did something aggressive and violent as part of my service. Students immediately ask me if I was in combat and practiced “Krav Maga” on a daily basis… I always chuckle when hearing this, because little do they know that my position in the military was the equivalent to a social worker in America.

Being a social worker meant that I was in charge of making sure lone soldiers were well treated, I was there to help soldiers with their financial issues, and helped families in need. These two years have changed my outlook on life. I have been giving back to the community ever since I can remember, and holding that position for two years really opened my eyes and exposed me to a lot of people with incredible stories. I did not want to stop volunteering once starting AU. As a result, I decided to join the CSLP program.

This is my second time volunteering with CSLP. I volunteered for the first time in the Spring of 2016 (when I was a freshman), at an after-school care program, called M.O.M.I.E’s, for underprivileged kids. This time, I am giving back in a completely new way. Since the start of the semester, I have combined my Health Promotion Program Planning class with CSLP, allowing me to make my learning experience more meaningful. As a class, we are working with Baptist Church of Salem Gospel Ministries, located in Silver Spring. Each group has a different health issue that they are focused on, allowing us to create a health promotion plan for our focused community.

My group and I are focused on intimate partner violence. At the start of the semester, we focused on creating an effective survey to be able to identify our target population. We wanted to see how prevalent the issue was within our society. When we visited the church, we spent a Sunday with our community and participated in service. After the engaging service, we handed out the surveys and helped our community fill them out. Currently, we are working on using all of the analyzed data that we have collected, and putting it into a meaningful health program. Our aim is to educate our community on intimate partner violence in order to prevent its occurrence and try to change this culture’s norm in those regards. This project is allowing me to experience a real program plan and implement it to a community where it is necessary. I feel like I am making a difference and that my hard work will make a difference in someone’s life.


Rachel Dean, DC Rape Crisis Center

My name is Rachel, and I’m an International Studies major at AU, with a minor in Arabic Language and focuses in identity, ethics/human rights, and the Middle East. I am currently volunteering with the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) as a crisis intervention advocate on the DCRCC hotline. The DCRCC’s mission is to eliminate sexual violence and promote a culture of consent through various support services for survivors of sexual violence. The DCRCC provides resources and services such as counseling and therapy, legal services, community outreach and education, institutional and system advocacy, and more. As a hotline advocate, I take calls on the 24-hour DCRCC hotline and speak to survivors in need of support. The hotline is survivor-centered, meaning, as an advocate, I use consensual language to enable the survivor to guide the conversation towards what he/she/they need, whether that is someone to talk to, specific resources, or safety planning. I have paired this volunteer work with my Gender and Development class, which discusses the connection between gender, specifically focusing on women, and systems and methods of development.

My introduction to the DCRCC hotline was a gradual one, as I had a two-month, 60-hour training process to prepare for the role of a hotline advocate. When I first entered training, I expected the position to be a sort of counseling role, where I’d talk callers through emotional problems, like suicide and depression. I was nervous because I had no idea how to handle calls, and no idea how I’d even go about learning something that seemed extremely wide-ranging in terms of the nature of situations that could come up. However, as training progressed, I grew more and more confident. We began with foundational, conceptual training regarding the science of trauma, children and childhood trauma, the importance of elements of identity, such as race, gender, and sexuality, as well as the dynamics of power, rape culture, and consent. We further learned how to connect this foundational knowledge with work on the hotline. We discussed a caller’s identity as important to how they experience and react to trauma, and consent as important on the hotline to give callers confidence and agency in determining the outcome of the call and their situation. My expectations for the hotline changed in that I no longer view the hotline as therapy, but rather as a sort of intermediary resource that connects survivors to other resources, and facilitates the day-to-day survival of those dealing with the trauma of sexual violence. When I started actually working on the hotline and talking to callers, these new expectations were met and I realized how thorough the training was in preparing me for hotline advocacy.

The nature of this work, especially its foundational knowledge, connects with the learning objectives of my Gender and Development class. In class, we discussed dynamics of power and how those dynamics play out in society between men and women, where men have hegemonic power over women. In this way, men control the public/productive sphere, which includes politics and monetarized work, while women dominate the reproductive sphere, which includes homemaking and child-rearing. Because men control politics, and therefore policy-making, men create the policies, and even the discourses, on women’s sexuality and fertility. In essence, men control women’s bodies through their societal-political dominance. Further, men, who are seen as “naturally” part of the productive sphere, earn the money for the household as “breadwinners,” and therefore are also the decision-maker heads of the household. This relates to sexual violence, rape culture, and culture of consent, where power and power dynamics are at their core. Sexual violence is about asserting power over someone, and making them feel powerless by taking away their agency. Rape culture is the manifestation of men’s power over women’s bodies, where victims are blamed and perpetrators are held unaccountable. A culture of consent is about giving people the power to make their own decisions about their bodies, and, in general, their lives. On the hotline, the use of consensual language is vital, as my job is to give the caller their agency back in making their own choices. I don’t tell them what they should do or what they should want (as much as I’d like to sometimes!), I let the caller guide the conversation and tell me what they want to do, empowering them to act in a way that suits their specific needs in that moment.

Additionally, in my Gender and Development class, we talked about different feminist methods of development. The main one we discussed is the post-modern feminist development approach, in which a practice is deconstructed to its root cultural ideology in order to reform it. For example, female genital cutting (FGC) is opposed by many activist NGOs. While some organizations have worked on criminalizing the practice, this actually proves more harmful, since the practice isn’t eliminated and instead it is driven to be done in dangerous, unsanitary places and situations. Therefore, those seeking to eliminate the practice need to deconstruct it, look at the cultural ideals behind it, and work from there in order to end the practice. Similarly, rape culture can be eliminated, and a culture of consent can be built, through this approach of deconstruction and reconstruction, which I believe is already underway in the US. Organizations like the DCRCC, as I’ve learned from working on the hotline, are vital parts of this cultural reformation, as they not only work with and help survivors of sexual violence, but they also inform policy and the public about these harmful societal structures and how to change them. They create a new discourse that challenges old discourses of rape culture, in effect paving the way to dismantling the existence of sexual violence.


Kayla Eaton, DC Central Kitchen & DC Food Policy Council

This past semester I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about food issues in DC, through engaging with DC Central Kitchen and DC Food Policy Council. DC Food Policy Council. According to DC Hunger Solutions, of the 43 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in Ward 4, four in Ward 7, and three in Ward 8. By contrast, Ward 3 – the highest income Ward – has eleven full service stores. Wards 7 and 8 have the District’s highest poverty rates and highest obesity rates ( DC Food Policy Council was created in 2014 to combat food issues in the city. The mayor appointed 13 members to serve on the board, ranging from nonprofit leaders, scholars, business owners and community members. The council has four working groups that tackle different issues: sustainable food procurement, local food business & labor development, urban agriculture & food system education, food equity, access, and health & nutrition education. The Council collects and analyzes data on the local food economy and recommends policy to “promote food access, food sustainability, and a local food economy in the District” (DC Food Policy website).

My first meeting was the Sustainable Food Procurement working group. The meeting consisted of people from different organizations like DC Greens and Dreaming Out Loud, self-described “food geeks,” and a few community members. Each strategic group had a short term and long-term goal as well as main mission. The bill that they were reviewing that day would loosen up restrictions on what food can be donated. This would lessen food waste and help food security. We had a long discussion on the arbitrary nature of best by, sell by, and use by dates. We also discussed the “Good Food Program.” This started in LA, and DC is looking to replicate this program. This would mean that every DC Public School would locally source their food. At the last meeting they reviewed what the program was and assigned tasks to every person at the meeting. It was clearly a community effort and the work relied on the willingness of the members. The next working group meeting I attended was the local food business & labor development. We discussed the Cottage Food Act, which pertains to people making food in their house and selling it online without inspection of their house.

I also spent my time volunteering at DC Central Kitchen, an incredible non-profit that aims to break the cycle of hunger and poverty through “innovated social ventures” (DCCK website). The most interesting thing that happened whilst volunteering for DCCK happened on my way to the site for my second shift. Having already volunteered once before at a different location, I didn’t look at where exactly the kitchen was. As I rode the escalator out of the Judiciary Square station I typed in DC Central Kitchen into my maps and strolled through the streets. I came to a large building with no clear markings. People hung out outside having conversations with each other, not paying much attention to me. I remembered from the volunteer intro video that the main kitchen lay under the largest shelter in America. This must be it. There were no signs for the kitchen so I walked up the block, pulling up the email with directions. Two men stood against the wall of the building conversing. A black man running up and down the street exercising past me. I stood on the corner and called Mariah, who I was meeting for lunch. The running man asked me if I was lost, I smiled, laughing, and explained that I was, but my friend had given me directions, and now I knew where to go. He stood with his feet wide and raised his arms in front of him to mimic holding a gun.

“You’re not welcome here”.

It was cold out that day and my eyes had been watering from the wind. The stoplight changed and cars rushed past us. A lanky white woman with a knitted hat aged 22, trying to ignore the fact that a black man in his 30s was aiming an imaginary rifle in intimidation at her. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t a white gentrifier taking over the neighborhood. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t attempting to tell him how to live his life. I wanted to tell him that I was a student currently learning about gentrification in DC. I wanted to tell him that I worked for a syringe exchange service and provided health services judgment-free to sex workers, drug users, and those experiencing homelessness. I wanted to tell him that yesterday I had shared an article about police brutality in DC. I wanted to tell him that one time I went to a Standing up For Racial Justice meeting. I wanted to tell him that I was on his side. But what does any of that mean?

I said I’m sorry and continued walking.

“For what?”

“For being here.”

I was aware of me whiteness, my femininity, my class, my privilege and the space that I was taking up. I was aware of the number of people that flood to that corner every week to ‘save the community’ to ‘feed the poor’. To feel complacent in a system built to oppress, to feel justified to continue living the way they do, the way I do. And I was just another one of them. Even if I wanted to explain that I wasn’t, I was. A white family walked behind me in colorful Washington DC hats, they asked if I was okay. I assured them that I was fine. And I was fine. I didn’t take this personally. I attempted to empathize with him. This man didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him either. I assumed him to be a man, assumed him to be black, assumed him to have some disorder as he had pointed an imaginary gun at me, which in all honesty was extremely terrifying. I knew there was nothing there but there was something about that situation that haunts me. It would have been different if he had just yelled that. But that imaginary gun, he believed in it, and so did I. The motion was so deliberate that I had put my hands up, showing my empty palms.

I don’t share this interaction to incite sympathy for myself, or try to pretend I’m a victim or that I’m tough or with it. I share this interaction because it needs to be asked: what does this interaction have to do with food & agriculture? And what is the larger context? For one, it reminds me of the distinction between intent and impact. I have great intentions but I must be aware of my impact as well. I want to help with DC’s food insecurity, but I have to interrogate why I want to help and how. No one knows the issue better than those experiencing it. I need to ensure I am lifting up voices that have been oppressed, listening to the solutions that the community is proposing, be in touch with the already existing networks that are fighting for access to healthy foods. I need to be aware of saviorism, of the white man’s burden, of histories of colonialism and the way they manifest today. It reminds me that you can’t talk about food issues without talking about labor issues and identities and race and class and politics and history. I wanted so badly for that man to know that I understand, but in reality, do I truly understand?


Sam Groskind, Bread for the City

I’m Sam Groskind, a Law and Society major at American University. This semester I’ve been volunteering at Bread for the City as part of the CSLP program for my Intro to Public Health course. Bread for the City is a nonprofit that provides a multitude of services to Washington DC’s most vulnerable residents. Their motto is “Dignity, Respect, and Service,” and they accomplish this through medical, legal, and social services, and by distributing food and clothing. I have been volunteering in the food pantry, which has given my the opportunity to witness the hunger and poverty that persists in our nation’s capital. Many Americans don’t see poverty in their daily lives, which leaves them unaware of the fact that millions of people in this country are food-insecure, meaning that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. The same is true for many students at American University. Many of us are affluent and have come here from all over the country, yet few of us get the chance to interact with and serve the
DC community.

I’ve volunteered at food banks on and off my whole life, so I felt prepared for the work itself. However, I was a little apprehensive at how I’d be received by the staff and clients in the food bank, but those fears were entirely unfounded. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun and we have a good time. The most important thing for me is to treat the clients with dignity, because the truth is, it’s not easy to ask for help when you need it most. I learn the most from my conversations with the food pantry staff and in my quick interactions with clients, and I’m able to tie some of it into what I’ve been learning in Public Health.

It’s been interesting to observe what kinds of food the clients choose. Some are only familiar with processed foods, and they’ll ask for white rice or spaghetti, white bread and crackers, and they don’t want certain vegetables because they don’t like them or aren’t sure how to use them. Others look forward to coming to the food pantry because it might be the only time during the week that they are able to access healthier options such as whole wheat bread, vegetables, and lean meat. Bread for the City partners with local farmers markets and farms to collect unsold produce that would otherwise go to waste, and they encourage clients to choose the healthier options when possible.

All in all, this has been an incredible experience and I encourage everyone who can to find a nonprofit in DC and volunteer. I realized that Tuesdays have become my favorite day this semester because that’s when I volunteer. It’s a fairly long commute and the work is exhausting, but there’s no substitute for the gratification that comes from giving your time and effort to those who need it the most.


Samuel Oswald, Mary House

My name is Samuel Oswald. I am a freshman studying International Relations at American University. At the beginning of this semester, I decided to combine the Community Services Learning Program (CSLP) with my Social Justice and Science College Writing course taught by Professor Michael Moreno. With the help of Professor Moreno and the CSLP staff, I found an opportunity to volunteer at the Mary House in Brookland, Washington, DC. This organization provides after school care and learning support to children from the area. The Mary House has also partnered with Panera Bread and YES Organic in an effort to distribute surpluses of food to families connected to the organization.

I joined the Mary House as an after school program assistant. With around twenty children ranging in age from 3 to 13 years old and only three full-time program leaders, there was plenty for me to do on a regular basis. I tried to entertain, read, and study with the children for the hours they were at the Mary House each day.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous to work with children because I had never been responsible for someone else before. My worries were cast aside after one session with the Mary House. The kids were energetic and sometimes wild, but my job of watching over them was far from difficult. They ate snacks, went outside to play, came inside to read, and then did arts and crafts. I joined them in their fun whenever they wanted me around. If they did not want me around, I sat back and made sure that their playing with each other did not turn into fighting. Again, my job was easy.

I have yet to mention that many of the children at the Mary House have parents who recently immigrated to the United States. Here in lies my experiences’ connection to my Social Justice and Science course. I discovered through working with the Mary House how important providing a supportive community to people who are rebuilding their lives half a world away from where they previously lived. Simple after school programs are perfect for building this supportive community. I am trying to convey my experience with the Mary House in an editorial I am writing for Professor Moreno on the importance of community support in reference to immigrant mental health. I see a correlation, so I am trying to convince others to pay attention.

I hope that other students will take the opportunity to enrich their educational experience at American University through CSLP. I had a wonderful time working with the Mary House. I met a lot of great adults and children and was able to expand my knowledge by learning outside of the classroom. CSLP gave me an excuse to spend less time studying and more time becoming a part of the Washington, DC community off campus. So often, students like myself get caught up in the academic aspects of college that we forget there are other ways of learning. I will be forever thankful to have been pushed towards the Mary House by CSLP. I am for sure continuing my work with the organization after my completion of the program.

Global Issues, SIS Course, The Experience, Women and Gender, Women for Women International

Emma Yingst, Women for Women International

As a graduating senior from American University, I was appalled to discover my lack of knowledge of the CSLP program; thankfully, an AU member and a professor tuned me in. For my last semester at AU, I am happy to have utilized this opportunity to add a credit onto my Social Entrepreneurship class by taking part in this service-learning program. My name is Emma Yingst, and I am a senior majoring in international relations and minoring in economics. The focus of my studies is on Central/South Asia, and my primary thematic area is development. With these focuses in mind, I decided to become involved with Women for Women International (WFWI) this semester through CSLP.

Women for Women International’s mission is to support marginalized women in countries affected by both conflict and war. This support comes in the form of programs that enable these women to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community and connect to networks for support. WFWI works to both socially and economically empower women, helping them attain the skills, knowledge and resources to create sustainable change for themselves, their families and communities.

At the service site, my role is both integral and marginal. Every Wednesday, I sit with anywhere between 3 and 10 women in the office’s only conference room to pack letters. Packing letters entails going through the letters from the women in the programs and matching them with their designated sponsor(s). After which, I put the correct labels on the envelopes and fold and put the letters with a standardized informational card and a picture, if provided, together. This becomes a monotonous process, broken up only by our lunch break and the conversations among the women around me. Without volunteers, Women for Women International would not be able to run; or rather, it would, but with a much smaller budget for its programs as it would need to hire people to do our job. The letters that go between the sponsors and the women in the program are extremely important, as it adds a personal touch to donating money. It creates more of a connection with where your money is going and who it is helping.


women for women image

Aside from packing letters, I have also acted as a stand-in ‘donor’ to women who were not paired with a donor. Sometimes WFWI has the money to sponsor more women, but not individual donors to pair them up with. Therefore, I acted as a fill-in so that all the women can receive letters. Reading how these programs affect the women in their letters has been one of my favorite parts of my work with WFIWI, other than talking to the other volunteers. Most of the volunteers are retired women, and most have led fascinating lives. I immensely enjoy soaking up their stories and listening to their banter.

I went into this service experience with the understanding that the work could become monotonous at times. However, what I did not expect was the integral role volunteers play behind-the-scenes, and that I would get to respond to participants’ letters through letters of my own. I also have had the chance to glimpse the running of an NGO and relate it to concepts from my class, such as gaining financial stability for such social enterprises, expansion techniques and management styles. While working with Women for Women International, I have learned that working with a great group of people makes all the difference, along with believing in the organization’s mission. These two combined have created a service-learning experience that I value and would continue if I get the opportunity to in the future.

American Studies course, Homelessness and Food, The Experience, ThriveDC

Eden Taylor, Thrive DC

My name is Eden Taylor and I am a Public Health major. I am connecting the Community Service-Learning Program credit to my Poverty and Culture class. The class is a habits of mind course that falls under the ethical reasoning classification. I chose this class because I knew that a lot of non-profits directly work to alleviate some of the burdens of poverty. The organization that I chose was Thrive D.C.

The mission of Thrive D.C. is to end and prevent homelessness in D.C. They address the social issues of homelessness, food insecurity, and recidivism. So, they have a morning and evening meal program. They also have a computer lab, an employment program, a substance abuse program, and a new directions re-entry program. Finally, Thrive D.C. serves as a mailing address for up to 2,000 people and stores mail for up to three months for clients.

At the service site, I completed a few different tasks. On Fridays, I organized mail and sorted it into alphabetical order. Then, each piece of mail is placed into a file cabinet that corresponds with the last name of the person receiving the mail. On Wednesdays, I help out with the morning program. For this, I have folded towels so that people can take showers in an organized manner, set up tables for clients, and swept the dining room. In addition, I cleaned fruit and repurposed lettuce from Pret-A-Manger salad bowls to prevent food waste in the kitchen. Finally, I have served food and gave out sugar and tea at the drink cart. thriveDC image

I expected to be talking to the homeless population more than I do. While I still interact with them occasionally, I do not have time to really sit down with them. Although this was disappointing at first, everyone is really kind and grateful. Also, I still observe clients and hear about their stories. I expected to help with a variety of tasks. This expectation has been met fully. Every time I go to volunteer, I am doing something slightly different. That being said, with the sheer quantity of mail that is received, I only expect to sort it.

There are many connections that can be made between the class and my volunteer work. The most notable one concerns the mail that I sort. Homeless people are more likely to be fined for public urination, sleeping in public areas, and more. This fine needs to be sent somewhere. If the person does not pay it and is unable to complete the proper follow up steps, they could be arrested. So, it is important that homeless people have a mailing address. Also, having a place to send mail allows a person to apply for jobs, get health insurance, and more. In addition, when a person is homeless it is difficult to obtain food because people tend to ignore the poor. Many have accepted their presence and view that helping the less fortunate is not their issue. Because of this, it is extremely important that there are services like Thrive D.C. provides meals for people. This is especially true for people who are undocumented or are not receiving food stamps. So, Thrive D.C.’s partnership with Pret-A-Manger that allows them to give each client up to two sandwiches or salads per day is incredibly helpful.

Finally, I have learned small lessons from working in the community. First, I have learned that people need to take advantage of multiple services Thrive D.C. provides in order to survive comfortably. So, they need to be able to use the phone, the computer, the mail service, and referral services in order to even attempt to get back on their feet. Second, I have learned about food choices. For example, many people put a lot of sugar in their drink because they have suffered from drug addiction and are currently trying to cope with withdrawal. Many replace one addiction with another. The same can be said about using ranch dressing. This fact may seem small, but it makes me reflect on my knowledge of poverty. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to volunteer with Thrive D.C. and I am grateful for all that I have learned thus far.

Health and Medicine, Kaiser Permanente, Public Health Course, The Experience

Michael Abate, Kaiser Permanente

I remember the first time that participating in CSLP sparked my interest. A young lady came into my class, Public Health Challenges in Film, and discussed what CSLP exactly was and what it entailed. At the end of the presentation, she handed out information to anyone that expressed interest. At the time, I had been offered a job from the Grassroots Campaign in collaboration with Doctors without Borders. I was pondering as to whether I should accept the job since it required long hours throughout the day. However, I was thoroughly convinced that CSLP was worthwhile as soon as I heard about it. I initially had several options in mind to volunteer.

I reached out to Kaiser Permanente because it is an establishment that is widely considered to be a leader in the health care field. Kaiser Permanente’s mission is to Kaiser image 1provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.” I am a junior undergraduate student majoring in Public Health and the class that I was taking in connection to the program was a Public Health course as well, so seemed like a match made in heaven. Although I was thrilled to be volunteering, I did not have any particular expectations coming in.  My overall experience volunteering at Kaiser Permanente was phenomenal. Volunteering gave me a great sense of satisfaction, especially when I realized that my assistance had brightened up the patients’ day. What I found quite remarkable was the amount of people that would talk to me and open up their lives to me, especially while knowing that I was simply a volunteer.

Volunteering also presented me with common challenges that healthcare professionals face on a daily basis. The ability to think critically is essential especially while facing tense situations. I learned firsthand how mean certain patients can be. There were quite a few patients that gave me, the volunteer, an attitude. Health professionals told me and assured that was in fact normal occurrence that is bound to happen several times within a given day. Volunteering provided me the safe space to remain humble, keep composure, know my role and do my absolute best possible job to provide a quality health experience for all patients. I gathered key concepts that I learned from my Public Health course and applied it in real-life. It is absolutely critical for anyone involved in health to demonstrate empathy. From that lens, I became more aware that patients may lash out, out of spite especially if they are having difficulties coping with a particular diagnosis or illness. I attained an invaluable perspective of how things are run within healthcare. I also gained a great deal of exposure quite in the early in the game, according to literally everyone working at Kaiser. Healthcare professionals became acclaimed with my presence and a result initiated the engagement of dialogue concerning professional and personal endeavors. I plan to continue volunteering on a less frequent basis. I would highly recommend students to participate in CSLP.

CAIR, LatinX Community, Refugee and Immigration, Spanish Course, The Experience

Shahrzad Rasekh, CAIR

Born to immigrant parents in Houston, Texas, I have interacted with refugees and immigrants – both documented an undocumented – my entire life. My passion for social justice and immigrant and refugee issues, combined with my multicultural background, made International Studies at American University a great fit for me, but I did not know exactly which components I wanted to focus. I was intrigued when I saw a table for the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR Coalition) at the campus club fair in the beginning of the school year. CAIR Coalition strives to provide information and support for undocumented immigrants in local detention centers. I had always wanted to work with undocumented immigrants. I had heard many recounts of the struggles of crossing the border and within the US; each narrative was more powerful than the last and inspired me to take action.

I initially contacted CAIR Coalition to volunteer as a hotline operator. I began volunteering at their office downtown multiple hours per week. After a few weeks, I found a balance between my schedule and volunteering and began working on the hotline at the same time each week. The hotline shift consists of answering the hotline that detained undocumented immigrants could call for a variety of reasons. If they had been recently arrested, I could conduct an intake to add them to our system. If they had a lawyer, I could transfer their call to their lawyer at no cost to the detainee. If they had questions, I would try my best to answer them or find someone else who could. While I enjoyed this work, I was curious about the conditions in which the people I talked to were kept. My fall semester schedule did not allow me to take a full day off of classes, so I decided to plan my spring semester schedule in a way that would allow me to do day-long detention center visits.

My SPAN-353 Professor emailed my class about CSLP around the same time that we were studying open US-Mexico borders earlier this semester. My volunteer work, the class, and the CSLP program all seemed like a perfect fit for each other, and I began volunteering at Farmville Detention Center every other Wednesday. Farmville Detention Center consists of an all-male, adult population and ranges The detention center is approximately 3 hours away, so I wake up around 3:30 am to be there on time. By the time I get back on campus, it is approximately 9:30 pm; the transition back from my time in the detention center is marked by exhaustion and the abrupt change in surroundings. It was originally diffcult to adjust back to my dorm room despite having spent my entire day in such a high-security, sanitized environment.

The work at the detention center consisted of elements very similar to elements of the hotline; I conducted intakes for recently arrested detainees, read updates for people we had previously spoken to, talked to them about their past and future court dates, and provided them with documents. I met men from all nationalities, ages, and backgrounds. Boys my age, old men blinded and deafened by years of unregulated work, young political activists, and everyone in between are confined to the same white rooms, the same food, and the same rules. While the conversations I have had with detainees are confidential, I can easily say that my interactions have been extremely memorable and have both enriched and been enriched by the coursework in my SPAN-353 class, which focuses on Latin America. The videos we watch in class regarding various Latin American countries provide me with some cultural background for the individuals I interact with, while the experiences they share provide me with closer, more personal insight to life in various Latin American countries.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with CAIR Coalition and plan to continue volunteering with them. I have seen first hand the effects of certain policies being either added or removed, and I have gained a deeper understanding of the detention center system. I hope to use this experience in my future and I believe that it will help me better navigate career options.

Latino Student Fund, Refugee and Immigration, SIS Course, The Experience

Yasmine Dehghani, Latino Student Fund

This semester at American University, I had the privilege of taking a course on human migration through the AU Scholars Program called “Refugee or Terrorist” with Professor Shawn Bates. Throughout this course, we studied the implications, journey, sentiments, and outcomes of human migration. One of the things we studied specifically was the loaded rhetoric that politicians tend to use when discussing immigrants, including “illegal” and “alien,” which dehumanize migrants. There is also the stereotype that allowing more migrants into the United States and other countries takes away job opportunities from native-born citizens. For those with right-wing extremist mentalities, immigrants are even more de-humanized, they are seen as threats to culture despite the fact that having many diverse cultures in one country has been proven beneficial, especially for a thriving economy.

Through my class I had an opportunity to visit an unaccompanied minor refugee center in Belgium, where I had firsthand interactions with migrants. This experience inspired me to want to work with more local immigrant families from diverse backgrounds. As I searched for organizations in close proximity to campus that would still allow me to make a difference in my local immigrant community, I came across the Latino Student Fund. When I visited the unaccompanied minor refugee center, I felt for the plight of the children, so I was thrilled to find that I could work for an organization that deals with children from immigrant families. LSF image

The Latino Student Fund is an organization that offers academic support to first generation immigrants. Every Saturday, underprivileged immigrant Hispanic families bring their children to get tutored in reading, spelling, writing, and math. A typical day of tutoring would start with reading a book to the children, completing a series of worksheets encompassing the aforementioned subjects, and playing a board game with them at the end as a reward and incentive for finishing their work. This is not the only service this organization provides- it also has programs that involve helping immigrant parents find schools to enroll their young children in, programs that assist high school aged children in applying for college, computer classes for immigrant adults, etc.

As a tutor, I have worked with pre-K students as well as a 5th grade student. I worked with the same pre-K students for the first few times I worked there, forming a bond with them as I taught them how to spell and read. One of the most endearing, though short, moments I had at the organization was with the father of one of these children. The father spoke to me, telling me that he had a desire for his daughter’s reading skills to improve and that he wanted me to read more books with her. This moment was very impactful to me for two reasons. For starters, it showed the dedication these immigrant parents had to providing the best life and education possible for their children. On top of that, the father had a thick accent, which made me sympathize with him and even more eager to help his daughter. Being a first generation immigrant myself, my parents both coming from Iran, I have a mother with a thick accent and thus I feel protective of immigrants with accents.

My time working at the Latino Student Fund and interacting with immigrants and their children has made me more sympathetic to their plight and develop an even more welcoming attitude toward immigrants, especially Hispanic immigrants, who come here both legally or risk their lives to come here illegally. They are human like the rest of us and want a better life for themselves and their children, proven by their efforts to have their children succeed in the American education system and to assimilate themselves as well. These parents sacrifice their Saturday mornings to ensure that this happens. Immigrants are hard-working and dedicated people who deserve to be in this country as much as everyone else does.

Health and Medicine, Public Health Course, The Experience, VA Medical Center

Guadalupe Mabry, VA Medical Center

My name is Guadalupe Mabry. I am a pre-med public health major and this semester I was able to participate in the Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center. I was placed in the research department in the chemical signaling lab in conjunction with my Introduction to Health Research Class

In the lab, I was able to be a part of research efforts through hands on efforts such as analysis and collaboration with scientists as well as through administrative tasks that allowed me to see the work that goes into every portion of research.

My time at the VA Medical Center gave me the opportunity to be a part of research in every single step of the way! I was able to apply concepts I was learning in my Health Research Class to an actual laboratory with everything from grants to ethics being applicable every time I stepped into the lab. The calcium signaling lab is extremely active, working on upwards of 5 different projects at a time in varying stages so there is never a dull moment. Because my background in not in chemistry, although I have taken some classes, I had a lot of on the job training. Being put into an active research environment has been an amazing experience!VA Medical Center image

Although I was stationed in the research department, I got the opportunity to explore around the Medical Center campus. The VA has been known for its set of issues regarding the speed of care provided to veterans and that sentiment was echoed by all the people I got to know on my walks around the campus. I remember on one of my first days, I was sitting in the lobby and a Vietnam vet nudged me and said to me “There is never a dull day or empty lobby at the VA. Not in my lifetime and I doubt in yours”. As a future physician, this really stuck with me.

Our nation’s veterans account for 11% of the adult homeless population and are disproportionality people of color. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is committed to caring for veterans and their families, but it has historically fallen short. In my experiences at the VA Medical Center, I got the opportunity to speak to folks actively attempting to better the system and care given to veterans as well as veteran themselves! The issues that veterans face are not well discussed or documented outside of organizations like the VA and my time serving at this organization has opened my eyes to the real impact research, community based interventions, and systematic evaluation have.

The one thing that truly inspired me during my service learning would be the diversity of the medical and health care providers at the Center. On my first day, I was overwhelmed upon walking in and seeing the vast number of doctors and nurses who were people of color. With the widely acknowledged gap in health outcomes for people of color, specifically Black folks, studies have shown the need for health care providers that look like patients in order for there to be increased trust and better adherence to medical advice. The future of medicine depends on increase cultural competence and understanding of the barriers of health that patients face. Seeing health care professionals as well as researchers in the lab who looked like me has reinvigorated my desire to pursue a career in medicine and research because if they can do it, I know I can too.

Health and Medicine, One Tent Health, Public Health Course

Forrest Holcombe, One Tent Health

I’ve known since I was a freshman in high school I wanted to be involved in pre-hospital healthcare, and I chose American University (AU) because of it. AU provides a really unique opportunity to get an eagle’s eye view of healthcare. The Department of Health Studies gives you broad overviews of public health topics and exposes you to many different facets of the field. One of the ways they do this is through requiring the Community Service Learning Project (CSLP), which involves 40 hours of local volunteer experience, in order to graduate.


For my CSLP experience, I chose to be exposed to a completely new aspect of out-of-hospital medicine I knew barely anything about: HIV prevention. HIV is an epidemic in DC, meaning it affects more than 1% of the population. However, there is an innovative program started by DC college students seeking to address that problem.


One Tent Health, the name of the organization I am working with for my CSLP, is an innovative program that provides pop-up HIV screening and PrEP navigation all across DC. They seek to destigmatize HIV diagnoses and testing, as well as ensure people know their HIV status.

one tent health image

All of this is done under one tent, where there is equity for all regardless of HIV status, race, gender, etc. We set up one white tent outside of grocery and convenience stores all over DC, and we ask people if they’d like to be tested. If they consent, we take a brief history, prick their finger, mix the solutions, and provide them with their results, coupled with prevention counseling, all in under 20 minutes. Another perk? It’s free for anyone who wants to know their status, as many times as they would like to know their status.


The interesting part is that all of One Tent Health’s volunteers are also college students, and we actually get to do the testing. You might think this is a complicated procedure, but in reality, it really isn’t. All I had to do was complete 5-6 hours of training, and then I was out in the field helping establish the prevalence of HIV in DC, as well as helping eliminate the burden of disease through prevention counseling education and reducing the anxiety of not knowing your HIV status. What small things are you capable of learning/doing that might have a profound impact?


Overall, for me, it’s been incredible to experience other parts of DC that I wouldn’t normally go to in my average week at AU. However, what has been even more incredible are the people I meet and the stories they tell. Some people tell funny stories, some people tell stories of lifelong hardship, some people laugh, some people display nervousness, and some people are just ambivalent to us. Regardless, I’ve met, and been able to walk with, people as they face things that may be challenging for them, even if it’s just for a few minutes.  This innovative programming led me to connect this course to Professor Jody Gan’s Health Promotion Program Planning course. In this course, we discuss how to use health behavior theory models and planning models to effectively plan and administrate health promotion programs. One Tent Health specifically connects to the Health Belief Model, as they are making the perceived benefit greater than potential barriers and easing the barriers to taking preventative action, increasing the likelihood of action.

All things considered, I hope to use this experience, along with the skills I gain in her course and through my other experiences at AU, to create a world where healthcare is a human right and all God’s people live equitably together under one big tent.

Education and Youth, Horace Mann Elementary School, Public Health Course, The Experience

Emily Heard, Horace Mann Elementary School

Horace Mann is considered one of the founders of American public education. His promotion of education for all and stress on the importance of character building brought education into modern society. Horace Mann was known as an innovator and advocate working to better the lives of children. Horace Mann Elementary School is living up to the name. My name is Emily Heard, and I am a freshman intended psychology major with public health minor. This semester I spent time each week working with Horace Mann’s gardening program in connection to my introductory public health course.


The Gardening Program at Horace Mann is about more than just gardening. Amy Jagodnik spearheads this effort through the schools “Environmental Literacy Plan” that outlines teaching sustainability, building appreciation for natural environments, and understanding the origin of our food.  The Eclipse Program is a pre-K and Kindergarten program that meets weekly at the end of the school day. Eclipse teaches mindfulness and flexible exploration in fields like science, art, music, cooking, and more. I was so grateful to be able to help with worm exploration, put up displays about composting, help prepare for the farmers market, garden, maintain indoor growing towers, and help with everyday maintenance tasks like laundry and sign making.


When I first heard about the program, I admit that I imagined one that was poorly organized and vastly underfunded. As much as I loved the public schools I attended at home, I was witness to the faults of a bureaucratic system. When touring the school, I watched in awe at spaces of open air, colorful art, and natural light shining through the hundreds of windows. It was evident that the school was working to help children feel welcome. I explored the lunch programs set up to prevent food waste and encourage intuitive eating and saw the hub of offices for specialists working to build socio-emotional skills. I could not help but feel jealous of the resources and elementary experience these children would have. In contrast to many public DC schools, the demographics provided fairly involved caregivers and ample wealth. This socio-economic advantage built the potential of the program from the start. Funding and maintaining a program like this in another school may not have the support, funding contributions from families, and healthy space to do it. I have learned much over the years about the cycle of inequality within education and its contributions to issues of public health, but this gave me a firsthand example of what privilege can provide.


Public health can be defined as actions collectively taken to promote and protect human health and wellness. Programs like this one focus on education and prevention of health issues by promoting healthy eating and activity. One of the social determinants of health is environment. Environment has a lot to do with the places we work and play. Neighborhoods like the ones near American University and Horace Mann have multiple parks and sidewalks for healthy and safe activities. Part of the ability for this program to succeed is due to the safe and open environment with ample space to garden in clean air and safe soil (not contaminated with many environmental toxins that create and exacerbate health problems). I was honored to be a part of a program working to promote sustainability in order to reduce these environmental issues. This experience gifted me an opportunity to engage with my community in a college context, rather than just in my hometown. I have learned more about the importance of early education in these issues, how to identify structures contributing to issues of public health, and the hope needed to implement solutions.

Homelessness and Food, Martha's Table, Public Health Course, The Experience

Dayna de Montagnac, Martha’s Table

I am Dayna de Montagnac, a public health major at American University and a volunteer with Martha’s Table. This semester I embarked on an opportunity to receive extra credit towards my public health course while helping communities in need. Just a couple of metro stops away from American University are portions of the city without access to fresh produce and other resources necessary for a stable life. These areas, I learned, are referred to as food deserts. For miles around, there are no markets to buy fresh and affordable produce, only restaurants and small shops with packaged food. The food available is not healthy enough to eat everyday. From what I’ve learned in my public health class, geography and socio-economic status are huge determinants of health. Poor food options, or resources in general, can take a major toll on the well-being of a lower-income community, especially on children and the elderly. In addition to the lack of fresh produce, there are no places to buy affordable work attire. Clothing could mean a foot in the door during job interviews. From my observations, I learned that many people in need are unfamiliar with fresh food preparation, as well as how to access job opportunities. This is where my community service work stepped in.

Every Wednesday and Friday for about two months, I took the DC metro red line to the green line, and walked about fifteen minutes to different Martha’s Table locations to work. Their department store provides business attire, clothing for children, and clothing in general for a fixed fee that people can take advantage of every month. As a volunteer there, I sorted new donations and separated them into their respective categories to display in front of the store. Then, I interacted with customers that came in need of help. It was important that I showed them compassion as if they were in an actual department store. A positive attitude would make them feel comfortable with coming back to shop with us again. The objective was to give customers dignity in shopping with a donations program, but more importantly, give them what they need to have a more progressive life.

Another program that I volunteered with at Martha’s Table was the Food Martha's table image 3Market program. The goal of this program is providing food deserts with fresh produce that they would ordinarily have had to travel far and pay more for. The market was free to shop in. We set it up like a farmers market, except in the middle of a public school. There would be stations with different fruits and vegetables straight from local farms. As a volunteer team, it was our duty to form an assembly line. A bag would be passed down in a line and each volunteer would add a component to the bag. At the end, a flyer displaying helpful recipes was added to the bag so that patrons would know what to do with the produce. The communities that we served in the process were children getting out of school and their parents. They were given bags filled with enough groceries to feed both of them, and given free samples of food prepared with the produce. It overjoyed me to see the faces of the children light up when they saw new foods and knew they would get to eat something different at home.

Refugee and Immigration, Service Project, SIS Course, The Experience

Juliet Henry, No Human Being is Illegal

For my community-based action project I worked with my professor, Barbra Wien to organize an event called “No Human Being is Illegal” which focused on issues of immigration at the southern border. The reason I first started to work with Professor Wien was after I helped out with clothing and food drive that she and Professor Tazreena Sajjad organized. The event happened in March and I was responsible for marketing the event and getting people to show up. This included designing the materials and all of the marketing for the event. This included sending a lot of emails meeting with different parties, hanging posters, passing out flyers, and trying to get advertisements posted on the TV screens in different schools. Because I have a graphic design background, I also created the poster including the illustrations from scratch. At the event we had the participants from the Alternative Break to the Southern border present on their trip, and we had Victoria Lopez, an immigration lawyer from the ACLU present on her work as well. In total almost 40 people came to the event.

Following the event, I also was responsible for follow-up communications with the attendees and worked to try to organize a second clothing drive similar to the one I participated in with Professor Wien and Professor Tazreena Sajjad in February. Due to changes in the Trump administration’s immigration policy, there were plans to bus many of the immigrants at the border to other cities where they can await their court dates. Professor Wien, another classmate and I were working to try and organize a food and clothing drive at AU to make bundles that could be given to the immigrants as they arrived in D.C. Unfortunately, we ultimately determined that there was not enough student interest or time left in the year to run another drive.